"You are a lifesaver," John said fervently, sliding his tray onto the table across from Rodney's and taking a chair. "I can eat here, right?" he asked, tucking into the latest chef's surprise even as he asked permission to sit down.
"Please, stay," Rodney replied with a certain amount of sarcasm, stabbing at his own food. It was Teyla's fault, he decided, watching her waddle through the food service line, followed by Kanaan and their son. Hers had been the first pregnancy on Atlantis since the Ancients left, but many more had followed before she became pregnant again. She was the bad example for scientists and soldiers alike.
Sheppard arched his brows. "You okay?"
"Why shouldn't I be? I'm fine. Everything's fine. We're cut off from Earth but what does that matter when everyone is in love?"
Glancing around, Sheppard lowered his voice. "It's kinda weird, isn't it?"
His eyes settled on a table and Rodney checked to see he was looking at CarsonTwo and Cadman being sickeningly sweet, feeding each other from their plates. Teyla had given him one of her looks when he'd referred to the clone aloud by the nickname, so now he tried to use it only in his mind. After all, the clone was Carson, to all intents and purposes, with Carson's memories, skills, and bad taste in women. Cadman had initially resisted when CarsonTwo had tried to romance her, but he'd worn her down. Undoubtedly there would soon be another wedding with Woolsey officiating, Carson in full Scottish regalia, and Cadman in bridal gown or dress blues. At least Rodney had picked up his own kilt on one of his last trips home, before the Stargate refused to lock on Earth coordinates, so he'd be attired properly as best man.
"So how about you? Why don't you make some woman happy? Ask her to marry you and start a brood of children with cowlicks?" Because Sheppard only had to tilt his smile at some woman, and she'd fall at his feet. Most of the single women had made their interest known, and even a few of the men, now that adherence to 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' was getting lax, but Sheppard seemed immune to the romance in the air.
Sheppard shrugged. "Haven't met anyone. And I don't want kids."
Rodney gazed at him, shocked. The first claim just meant Sheppard was ridiculously picky, but for the second – "You don't want children? You're an intelligent – well, reasonably so – man and you have the ATA gene. You should pass your genes to the next generation."
"ATA gene transmission isn't guaranteed, right?"
"No, it's not guaranteed. It's a random characteristic. But yours is the strongest." He knew Sheppard wasn't stupid, so why didn't he understand the importance of trying to pass on his ATA gene? Rodney had always planned on having children to inherit his genius. With the overabundance of babies on Atlantis, he'd begun to realize more and more that he should get started on that project soon. Children took time to raise and educate, particularly if he was going to have to design the equivalent of a Ph.D. program using Atlantis scientists as his childrens' professors.
Sheppard shrugged again, still devouring his food. "With the gene therapy, there doesn't seem any reason to worry about it."
The rebuttal on Rodney's lips was interrupted by one of the linguists stopping by their table, tray in her hands. A dark-haired woman, Mary or Margaret… Worth? Worthington? "Colonel Sheppard. Is there room here?"
There was, of course, plenty of room, as all of the tables sat four or six people. Even Rodney could understand the question was, "Can I eat with you?" which Sheppard would be foolish to answer with anything but "Yes" because M-whatever wasn't blonde but she was very pretty in a pixie-ish way.
Surprisingly, Sheppard gave her a vague smile, starting to rise. "I wasn't very hungry actually. You can take my seat." With his half-eaten plate of food, Sheppard hurried away, not even staying to see M-Emma? – as she gave Rodney a frozen smile, announce that she'd seen someone waving at her, and scurry off. Rodney was left to his Jello and his thoughts.
Rodney watched M-whatever chat with a friend, his mind running over the exchange with Sheppard, and how the linguist had dashed away, as if she couldn't have Sheppard, she certainly didn't want Rodney. The rejection bothered him, though he tried not to let it. He knew it would take a rare woman to appreciate his staggering genius and uniquely attractive looks. After the debacles with Katie and Jennifer, Rodney couldn't even get a woman on Atlantis to have coffee with him, much less a real date. And Woolsey had limited exploration to his strict definition of essential missions, which limited Rodney’s opportunities to find that rare woman somewhere else in the Pegasus Galaxy. But he would. Eventually.
Or else the Daedelus would suddenly transmit that they were on their way, or Samantha Carter would make the Stargate work again, open a wormhole and smugly announce how she'd fixed whatever problem had existed, even when Rodney couldn't. Then everyone could return to spending their time on studying Ancient science, instead of acting as if they were on the last Earth outpost and needed to repopulate the species. Rodney could visit Earth then, seeking romance among a wider population.
While scraping at the last of his Jello, the sound of female laughter made Rodney glance over to the table where M-whatever was eating with her friend. Radek was standing by them, and she was smiling broadly at him, like he was as hot as Sheppard.
No longer hungry, Rodney dropped his spoon into the Jello cup and fled.
John stalked away from the mess, wondering when Atlantis had become Happy Families R Us. Not that he had any objection to people being in families and happy. He was, well, happy for all his friends, even though he had a hard time relating. His father had been a strict disciplinarian and a workaholic; his mother a 'social drinker' who increasingly only needed the company of her young sons to tipple a few in the afternoon. John had tried to please his parents, but nothing satisfied his dad, and his mother viewed everything through an alcoholic fog. Dave had been okay when they were kids, but as they grew up, Dave kept trying to please dad long after John had given up, creating clashes between them. Dave was impatient with John's inability to toe the line, and John didn’t understand why he should engage in utter futility.
Dave had snickered when John announced he'd joined the Air Force, predicting he’d last a month. But the chance to fly jets and choppers gave John the strength to follow the chain of command, and even the most obnoxious officer was better than their dad. After all, John didn’t have any emotional attachment to his superiors. The little boy who'd never been good enough was long gone.
Reaching his room, John threw himself on the bed, staring at the white ceiling. Atlantis was becoming intolerable. He couldn't even have a nice meal with Rodney. Women kept wanting to flirt with a boldness that even John could register, and it was moving beyond unnerving to irritating. Being part of a family unit had no great appeal for him, but he didn't want to be rude to get that message across.
Frankly, he had enough on his plate right now without piling a relationship on top. With Earth gone and no reason to expect contact again, they had to address long-term supply and morale issues. They'd done it before, the first year, but everything had been so new and scary and amazing, Elizabeth had focused more on exploration then on detailed outlines for spending twenty, thirty or forty years in the Pegasus Galaxy. Woolsey was a decent leader, but a true bureaucrat who loved his contingency planning.
The thought that when John was in his 50s, he might have to teach all those young kids how to be soldiers, to use guns or whatever weapons they had, was scary.
Thank god for Rodney and the stupidity of women. Rodney being alone was insane. Sure, he was a little high-maintenance, but he was intelligent and funny and always had John’s back, even when he was scared to death. He'd probably make a great husband and father, if anyone was bright enough to give him a chance. But he'd never found anyone else after the flirtations with Katie and Jennifer, and now those ladies were taken.
The loss for Atlantean women was John's continued luck. He and Rodney would grow old together, doing their respective duties, making sure Atlantis and her people would adapt and survive. It wasn't the future he'd planned, but unlike Woolsey, John had never been fond of planning. His only regret was not knowing if Dave and his family were fine. They'd reconciled after their dad's death, and had kept up an email conversation until the Stargate stopped locking on Earth. He hoped the gate problem was some weird space anomaly, and not the destruction of their home planet.
But if Atlantis was on its own, forever and ever, well… he'd seen Rodney old, and knew he'd still be a loyal best friend. Together they would make it.
It wasn't the thought of both Radek and Carson hooking up with attractive women, getting married, undoubtedly producing offspring with wild hair and blue eyes, that had Rodney scouring the Ancient database in the middle of the night, searching for anything that might be relevant to his situation.
No, it was just casual interest. Everyone else in Atlantis was obsessed with getting married and having children, why shouldn't he be a little bit curious? Not that Rodney was usually a joiner, but still… Surely the Ancients had noted the coordinates for the Planet of Large-Breasted Ladies Who Love Geniuses or a love portion or… a ferility creche. Rodney paused the screen, studying the diagram, translating the Ancient notes, wishing that Ancient scientists had been more thorough and less cryptic in their documentation. The creche was part of the Ancients' desire to ascend, an experiment in distancing themselves even more from bodily functions while still maintaining a reasonable-sized population.
A successful experiment, Rodney noted happily, discontinued only because the Ancients were losing the war and had decided to abandon Atlantis, leaving the equipment intact.
He returned to the notes on actually making the machine work. DNA samples from two people, materials necessary for growth, power, and hey presto! A baby without fuss and bother. He could be a dad. A single dad, but a dad. His genes could be perpetuated for the next generation. If... when... they connected up with Earth, Madison would have a cousin. Jeannie would be thrilled to be an aunt.
And in the meantime, he wouldn't be idly watching others pair off, waiting for the day when some woman finally snagged Sheppard, and he was truly alone.
The thought of John made him pause and wonder if Sheppard would like to use the creche too when it was up and running. Their kids could grow up on Atlantis together. But no, Sheppard didn’t want kids, didn’t care if his genes were passed along. Such a waste, considering that Sheppard's ATA gene was so powerful. Imagine a child with Rodney's genius and Sheppard's affinity for Ancient technology...
Rodney stared blankly at the computer screen, the diagram of the creche, imagining a child combining John's good looks and Rodney's intelligence. He flipped back up to the requirements, reviewing his translation. DNA samples, not an egg and a sperm, and John's DNA was readily available in CarsonTwo's genetics lab.
He could do this. He could create a child. A perfect child. All he had to do was find the creche and make it work.
Happy Families R Us had even invaded the staff meetings, John mused unhappily. Ronon was generally the silent man in their weekly staff meetings, though he always appeared faithfully, along with Carson, Keller, Teyla, Lorne, and Radek. Today he was positively chatty, having taken a team to Sateda to scrounge items like baby strollers and cribs. Sateda had been advanced enough that its baby equipment satisfied Earth safety standards, but fortunately, such items hadn't been considered prime pickings for scavengers. Ronon seemed incredibly pleased with himself, and John was glad that he had pieces of his home to use for his future children. But still, maybe they could form a family committee, leaving him and Rodney off it.
Though weirdly, Rodney had asked a few questions about the supplies Ronon and his little team had brought back, like babies mattered to him. Maybe he was making one of his sporadic attempts to be more social, because John was sure that Rodney wasn't dating anyone. At least, he was pretty sure.
Then Woolsey folded his hands in front of him, and cleared his throat in the way he had of signifying that a Great Pronouncement was about to be communicated. John kept his body language casual but braced himself mentally, wondering why he hadn't been informed of Woolsey's announcement.
"While we are discussing families, this seems to be the appropriate moment to announce that I have decided to formally repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' for the members of the American military here on Atlantis. Since it appears increasingly unlikely that we will reestablish contact with Earth, it would be needlessly cruel to expect our gay or lesbian soldiers to continue to adhere to that policy. Atlantis will not tolerate any discrimination on sexual orientation."
Woolsey turned to look directly at John. "I expect you to ensure that no troubles arise from anyone 'coming out of the closet,' as it were. However, I will go on record that I did not consult you. In case we do reach Earth again, this decision will be solely on my head."
John nodded. He wasn't sure Woolsey's gesture was necessary, since the repeal of DADT had been anticipated before they lost contact with Earth, but he appreciated the thought. "There won't be any problems," he promised.
"On Atlantis? People won't be homophobic here, would they?" Jennifer asked.
Rodney gave a strangled snort, his eyes on his laptop, fingers idly typing. John wished that he had a good excuse to bring a laptop to the staff meetings too. Rodney frequently checked his to give updates on experiments or power stats, but John's reports were never that complicated. The soldiers trained regularly and the weapons/ammunition inventory dwindled a little more each time they had a minor skirmish with the remnants of the Wraith population. It was the same as last week and the week before.
"Rodney?" Woolsey asked. "Do you have a problem with the repeal?"
"Me? No, no problem. And no," he added, giving a scornful look at Jennifer, "no one on Atlantis is likely to have homophobia issues. Even the American military is bright enough not to send closed-minded idiots to other galaxies."
"The snort, Rodney?" Woolsey persevered.
"Yes, well, the colonel will have to learn to dodge even more, won't he? Now you'll have the men openly chasing you as well as the women," he directed to John, who was taken aback by the prospect.
"Guys aren't going to chase after me." Jennifer gave a little giggle. Glancing at her, John noticed both Teyla and Lorne giving him… looks. Like maybe he wasn't too bright. "They're not!"
"Yes, well, if that's the end of the announcements?" Rodney didn't wait for Woolsey to answer, standing up, and closing his laptop.
"Yes," Woolsey agreed. "Meeting adjourned until next week."
The others trickled out, but John stood, resting one hip against the conference table, waiting until they were the only two left. "No guy's going to be chasing after me," he repeated.
"If you say so," Rodney said, giving a sigh as if humoring him.
Deciding not to continue that stupid battle, John asked, "So you gonna let me in on the secret?"
Rodney gave a guilty look while his voice was overly casual. "The secret?"
So there was a secret. Rodney's expression gave it away. "Why you're so distracted these days. Why you talked to Ronon about baby carriages. Peggy finally accept your dinner invitation?"
Now Rodney's expression was baffled, like he couldn't place Peggy. "Peggy?"
"The cute linguist?"
"Oh, Peggy. Isn't she dating Radek? But no, she and I have no plans for dinner. Like you, I am perfectly happy alone. My work is completely absorbing."
John hoped that was true. Rodney always had been obsessively committed to his work, and if he ever found a woman who could make him happy, then she was bound to interfere with the time they spent together. He shrugged his shoulders, and asked, "See you at dinner then?"
"If the hordes of females and gay men don't chase you away," Rodney sniped.
John shifted uncomfortably. Several women had continued to hound him, long after he thought he’d made it clear that he wasn’t interested in a relationship. He'd ended up abandoning Rodney several times, leaving the cafeteria rather than deal with the pestering, and he certainly didn't need any gays joining in. Not that he had any problems with homosexuality. He'd been known to give a fellow soldier a hand on occasion, before taking military command on Atlantis made that permanently unwise. But Rodney was the only buddy in his future, and Rodney was straight. "I promise they won't. We can play some chess afterwards," he suggested.
He hated Todd. Really, really hated him, Rodney decided, sliding across the floor of the gate room, coming to rest in an undignified heap once the momentum from throwing himself through the gate had died. Sheppard came through the gate still running, kicking Rodney in the side as he stumbled over him and fell to his knees. "Ow," Rodney said loudly, glaring at him. At least Sheppard wasn't going to get to name their child. Todd was a terrible name, as terrible as Todd the Wraith.
"Sorry," Sheppard said, rolling onto his back and staring up at the ceiling. "I'm really beginning to hate that Wraith."
"At least we are home safely," Teyla said, and how the hell had she and Ronon managed to stay on their feet? Ronon was understandable, but couldn't Teyla be a little less graceful after having barely recovered from her pregnancy?
"I think next time Todd calls, we shouldn't be in." Sheppard turned his head to look at Rodney. "You okay?"
"You kicked me! As if I needed further bruises," Rodney grumbled as he started to struggle to his feet. Ronon grabbed one forearm and yanked, pulling him up abruptly. "Yes, thank you, dislocate my shoulder on top of everything."
Woolsey walked down the stairs. "I gather you had a less than satisfactory mission."
"Yeah, well as Teyla says, we're all home safely." Sheppard got to his feet without assistance from the caveman.
"We can debrief after you check in with Carson and Keller," Woolsey instructed. "And Rodney, we need to review power usage."
Rodney stopped in the midst of rolling his arm in the socket, making sure Ronon hadn't done permanent damage. "Power usage? Why?"
"I had Radek shut down power to the unoccupied areas of the city while you were gone so we can extend the life of the generators. I'd like you to review his calculations."
"You – " Rodney raced up the stairs to the control room, shoving a technician to one side as he scanned the controls, calculations and obscenities racing equally through his brain. Radek had shut down exactly what Rodney would have, except Rodney would have known to isolate the section with the crèche. Fuck, fuck, fuck, he thought frantically, his fingers rapidly adjusting controls that didn't respond. "It's not turning on. Why is it not turning back on?"
"Is there a problem, Rodney?" Woolsey asked, having followed him up the stairs to the room. His team stood behind him, all of them looking confused.
"Why is it not turning back on? What did you have Radek do?" Rodney tapped on his earpiece. "Radek, Radek, come in. What did you do when you turned the power off?"
"He moved two of the naquadah generators into storage for safe-keeping," Woolsey answered, while Radek confirmed the information.
Fuck, fuck, fuck, that meant he couldn't even reroute. Rodney ran out of the control room, yelling, "Where did you put them?"
Dimly, he realized that his team was following him, the three of them close to his heels, but for once Rodney outpaced them all, his mind already focusing on what he needed. A generator, the cables to connect it, and luck that the lack of power hadn't already caused irreparable harm to his child. His and John's little girl.
There was a brief moment as all four stood in the transporter, and John asked, "What the hell is going on?" and Rodney answered, "Look, go away, I don't need you three, you can't help, this isn't any of your business," but then he took off running again, beginning to breathe hard but not stopping until he'd collected the generator and run to the lab with it cradled in his arms. The crèche was still humming and rocking gently, duplicating the type of noise and motion a fetus would experience in the womb. Blessing the fail-safes in the Ancient technology that had apparently stored enough power to keep the crèche running, Rodney worked frantically to connect the generator, moving faster than when Wraith hive ships had been approaching Atlantis. Gasping, he ran a diagnostic then slumped to the ground, sitting on his ass, staring in relief at the egg-shaped machine in the center of the room. His legs ached from running, his arms were sore from carrying the heavy generator, and his heart was still pounding in his chest, but the generator had taken over flawlessly, powering the crèche and beginning to restore the reserves. Everything was functioning perfectly, and there was no indication of damage. He'd agonized over his decision to use the crèche a dozen times, trying to work up the nerve to tell John, wondering if he'd gone temporarily insane, wondering if he should stop the experiment, but the thought of finding her gone – "Oh, thank god, thank god." He didn't even believe in a god, but those were the words of relief that came automatically to his lips.
Teyla and Ronon were peering down into the oval window on the top of the crèche. "Rodney," Teyla asked, "are you growing a child?"
Rodney waved his hands at her, the fading fear making him unable to form a coherent reply as his brain kicked in to question whether he was ready to explain. "Just an experiment. Not any of your concern." What could he say anyway? Teyla had Kanaan, Ronon had Jennifer, Sheppard didn't want anyone. They wouldn't understand. "Yes, well." He heaved himself up from the floor. "That's all taken care of now. Infirmary, everyone." Willing them to follow, he turned to leave, brought up short by Sheppard standing in the doorway.
"Is this the secret? You're growing a child?"
"I'm running an experiment. It's nothing you would understand," Rodney answered in his most dismissive tone, hoping to get them all out of the room. And then he'd encrypt the door locks.
"I think I can understand a child, Rodney."
"Woolsey's not going to let you keep a generator anyway," Ronon added.
Rodney surrendered to the inevitable, walking to the crèche, peering down into the protective fluids that kept the baby fed and growing. The view was frankly somewhat disgusting in appearance, like red and white syrups badly mixed together, but they allowed flashes of the baby as she squirmed. "It's a device that the Ancients created. Another experiment to help them ascend by eliminating bodily needs."
"So how long have you been growing it?"
"She's at 34 weeks, converting for the difference between the length of an Earth and Atlantis day."
"Rodney, I do not understand. If you want to have a family, why do you not – "
"Why don't I what?" Rodney whirled on Teyla. "Find a nice woman? Get married? Because they don't want me. They want him," he accused, pointing at Sheppard.
"Oh, there you are." Woolsey walked into the lab, putting a life signs detector in his pocket. "What's going on?"
Watching the escalating fight between Rodney and Woolsey, John felt a little sick. He'd known Rodney had a secret. He'd been distracted for months, often totally absorbed in thoughts that appeared bleak. John had written it off as stress over the situation, and had tried to be a good friend, an effort that never seemed completely successful. But he'd never dreamed that Rodney had so despaired about not having a family that he'd go to such extremes. Ancient technology could be notoriously unreliable. It had given Rodney superpowers but almost killed him in the process. Who could guess whether this device would successfully create a baby?
Carson and Jennifer came in while Rodney and Woolsey were still in the thick of it – reckless experimentation, not asking for approval, limited resources, yadda yadda. Jennifer went straight to Ronon's side for a gentle kiss while Carson examined the device.
"What have you done now, Rodney?" Carson asked as the two combatants paused for breath.
"It's none of your business, Carson."
"Are you growing a clone?" he replied, leaning down to press his face close to the glass.
"It's a baby, not a clone."
"A baby?" Jennifer waddled over to stand by Carson. "Who's the lucky mama?"
"The baby is mine. All mine."
"If it's all yours," Carson said, "then it's a clone."
"Oh, I think it's a girl." Jennifer sounded delighted, and she must have good eyes to see through all that gunk. John had looked once through the device's window and then stepped away. "So it wouldn't be a clone."
"Where did you get an egg anyway?" Carson asked, and John realized that Rodney was feeling trapped. He knew all of Rodney's moods from his facial expressions and body language. Woolsey's condemnation had only made him defensive, but Carson and Jennifer's questions were pushing him to the edge, and a Rodney about to explode was not a good thing. "Someone would have had to cooperate and then," Carson paused, "or did you just use DNA samples? Rodney, did you use some woman's DNA without her consent?"
"Look, none of this is anyone's business. I have a right to have a child. Energy use is minimal and I'm the sole parent. That's all that matters."
"I think it's going to matter to some woman if your child grows up to look like her," Woolsey objected.
Rodney shot John a look, so full of guilt and fear, that John's gut clenched as he interpreted it. "You used my DNA, didn't you? To have my gene." Rodney's expression confirmed it, eyes going even wider and more anguished, mouth turned firmly down on one side. "Goddamnit!" No wonder his efforts to cheer Rodney hadn't worked; guilt at taking John's DNA would have contributed to his moodiness.
Woolsey was horrified. "You used Sheppard's DNA without his permission? How could you violate his trust like that?"
"So she'll have two dads?" Jennifer asked. "That’s so cool. If this technology works, there are a lot of couples on Earth who would like to use it. I mean, assuming we ever get back there."
"John, please," Rodney was speaking only to him, but John found listening painful. "I had to have another DNA sample. Yours was the most logical, that's all. I would never expect you to be involved. Not if you didn't want to be."
"But he is involved," Woolsey contradicted. "He has equal rights over this child."
Rodney turned to Woolsey in horror. "But – she's mine."
"I didn't ask for her. And I don't want her," John grated out before he left.
Well, that couldn't have gone much worse, Rodney decided, staring at his laptop screen. He'd tried to convince himself John would welcome their daughter, that they could continue as good friends, but deep inside, he'd known John might not react well. Most people thought John was a laidback goofball, but Rodney had seen him in enough life or death situations to know he had a steel core when crossed. John Sheppard was the absolute worst person in the Pegasus Galaxy to make mad.
Still, he'd been angry when Rodney had destroyed five-sixths of a solar system, and that had quickly ended with the next crisis. They'd needed each other too much to remain at odds. Maybe, despite Woolsey's policy on minimizing risks, they'd have a few crises soon, and get their relationship back on an even keel.
There was a soft knock on the door, and Rodney went over to open it, finding Jennifer and her humongous belly – absolutely the last person Rodney wanted to see. "That was incredibly stupid of you. Sheppard's going to be mad a long time."
"Yes, thank you, Doctor Keller, for your brilliant powers of observation. Do you have any other words of wisdom?"
"Carson's studying the Ancient notes. Woolsey wants a full report." At least Woolsey hadn't tried to shut it down after John left, instead asking Carson to give a full evaluation before he made any decision.
"Yes, I did hear that. Is there some reason you're wasting my time?"
"You don't have to bite my head off. I just thought you might want to start figuring out what you're going to do next." She held out a flash drive. "It doesn't exactly look like you've been worrying about childproofing your quarters or anything," she said, glancing at the clutter scattered around the room. "It's everything we've got on child care and rearing."
"I – thank you." Rodney took the drive, touched at the gesture. At least one person seemed willing to think of Rodney as a father.
"Hey," she smoothed her hands over her belly. "Your baby will be born just a little after mine. They can play together."
Or she could be carrying Rodney's child, if Rodney had been able to change into the man she seemed to want to make him. Instead, her patience with scolding him had worn out, her affection straying to Ronon. Surprisingly, the thought of losing her no longer made Rodney feel bitter. His mind was too occupied with wondering if or when John would accept their daughter. Or forgive him.
Feeling rattled by the discovery of Rodney’s deception, John walked aimlessly around Atlantis, automatically nodding to people. Yeah, everything is fine. Military commander on his rounds. Not military commander wondering how his best friend could have betrayed him. No, no problem among the members of senior command. He finally wandered down to the gym, hoping for some physical activity. He needed more than a run. Ronon was there, doing something that looked like a martial arts kata with Teyla's bantos sticks, swinging them with exuberant but controlled precision. Sometimes he thought Ronon made stuff up, just to be mysterious. "Hey."
"Sheppard. You want to work out?"
“I thought you’d be with Jennifer.” Ronon usually disappeared after a briefing to spend time with his wife. Fuck. They’d never had the briefing about Todd’s latest escapade.
"She’s helping Carson with the kid.”
His kid. Rodney’s kid. John took the bantos sticks that he kept in the workout room, twirling them idly before attacking Ronon aggressively. Maybe for once he’d catch Ronon off guard and win the fight.
Then again, maybe running would have been better than working out, John contemplated some unknown amount of time later, after Ronon seemed to believe he'd been pummeled enough and had let him stop to rest. "Good workout," he said breathlessly, sitting on the floor, stretching his legs out in front of him, letting the wall support him. Nice wall.
"So you going to get together with McKay now?"
John cracked one eye open. Ronon looked completely energized, as if wiping the floor with John had not tired him one bit, and had resumed the patterns he'd been making when John entered the room. "Get together?"
“Yeah. You guys act like you are anyway.”
John’s brain finally caught up with the meaning of Ronon’s question. "Wait, you think we should be a couple?"
"Yeah. You spend all your time together."
"He's my friend. Was my friend." Before he decided I needed a child, even though I told him I didn't want one, John added. Christ, what the hell had Rodney been thinking?
"So am I. So's Lorne. You don't spend time with us like you do with him."
"Yes I do." It was really rather distracting to argue with Ronon when he was exercising. John kept having to address comments to his backside.
"No. Not like McKay."
"Okay, maybe it's easier to spend time with Rodney. We have the same interests." And probably the same level of competency around children, which was limited to the occasional babysitting of Madison or Torren. Seriously, how did Rodney expect to be a single parent?
Ronon did this amazing split leap thing that would have made David Lee Roth jealous, and made John wonder if Jennifer had an affection for 80s music videos. "So do you and Lorne."
"Lorne's my subordinate. Besides, he's more into art than movies."
"Wait, Rodney and I are not a couple," John said, scrambling to his feet. "We are not dating. Nor are we going to be."
"Just having a daughter together."
"A daughter I did not ask for." He'd felt sucker punched when he'd guessed what Rodney had done, escaping Rodney's presence to avoid shaking him. But now that his entire mind wasn't focused on preventing Ronon from pummeling him to pieces, his brain kept circling back to wondering about Rodney's motivations and plans.
Ronon stopped, holding a pose, legs stretched, one stick held in front, one in back. "You gonna let McKay raise her alone?"
"He’s the one who wanted her." Had Rodney really seen the Ancient experiment as his only way to have a family? Did he feel that alone? So unwanted by any woman? And why did John care?
Moving again, Ronon added a shrug to his routine. "Is that what you’re going to tell her? You didn’t want her?"
What would he tell her? If they never reconnected with Earth, if neither of them left Atlantis, she'd grow up knowing John was her father. The father who didn't want her. Just like John and his dad. Could he do that to a child, a little girl? "I need to debrief Woolsey," John said, and walked out.
Perhaps Jennifer's seemingly nice gesture was actually an exercise in sadism, because information on childcare was scary. Rodney devoured all of it in his free time, keeping to his normal work schedule, staying busy, trying not to dwell on the fact that he hadn't talked to John in several days. Hadn't even seen him, because John didn't drop by the lab for visits, and wasn't eating at his normal times.
With his normal insatiable curiosity, Rodney had started by browsing the sections on being pregnant. Gestational diabetes, elevated blood pressure, and the myriad medical problems that could be caused by pregnancy made him grateful he wasn't a woman. Evolution had definitely given women the worse role.
The sections on 'after the birth' were hardly more reassuring. He'd never quite realized the fragility of babies and everything that could go wrong with them. Rashes and digestion problems and making sure the bath water wasn't too warm… at least no one on Atlantis tended to have buckets of water for car washing or gardening sitting around, so she shouldn't be able to accidentally drown herself, though maybe Rodney should see if he could make Atlantis keep all the toilet seats down. How had humans ever managed to survive to adulthood, much less to overpopulating the world?
At least the need for the baby to eat and be changed regularly wasn't a problem. He rarely got a full night's sleep, and was sure he would deal quite well with being woken up at all hours of the night. A baby could hardly be more demanding than some of his staff.
"Can we join you?" Radek asked, and Rodney glanced up absentmindedly to see him and what's-her-name, standing by his table, holding trays. "You remember Peggy, yes?"
"Please," Rodney answered, waving his fork at the seats across from him, pushing his laptop to one side with the other hand. He'd worked up to the terrible twos, which was when he figured the real trouble would begin. After all, it was the age his genius had become apparent. "Peggy, yes, of course."
"So," Radek said, taking a seat. "You and Sheppard are having a child. You always said that you did not like children, Rodney."
"What do you mean, Sheppard and I are having a child? How did you know that?"
"The Atlantis grapevine is astonishingly efficient these days. Fewer missions, more time to talk."
"It sounds as if some people need to spend more hours on sewage maintenance," Rodney threatened.
Radek shrugged. "Is both soldiers and scientists. You cannot stop it, Rodney."
"But is it true?" Peggy asked, picking delicately at her food. "You’ve found an Ancient device to… make children?"
Understanding and explaining Ancient technology was a skill at which Rodney excelled, and he let himself slip into the mechanics of the technology, happy to share his knowledge. Radek understood his explanation and asked questions, more insightful than anyone else on Atlantis could.
"But the other DNA?" he asked. "You used the colonel's?"
Rodney paused, realizing that John might not want that confirmed, even if everyone seemed to know. Americans liked plausible deniability. "The child is mine," he said firmly. "I’ll be her only parent."
"That will be awkward. When she's older, if she looks like him. Which is," Radek waved his fork at Rodney's face, "much better than if she looks like you."
"My daughter will look like a McKay and she'll be adorable," Rodney snapped, offended at Radek’s suggestion that John's DNA was needed to create a pretty child. "Jeannie was a beautiful baby and she's a very attractive woman."
Radek nodded. "True. It would be good if she looks like Jeannie. I did not mean any insult to your sister's looks."
"I would hope not." He felt a wave of longing, wondering how Jeannie was doing. Was Madison's genius revealing itself yet? Had the English teacher finally wised up to the joy of a good steak? Samantha Carter needed to get the gate system fixed, if nothing else so Jeannie could scold him, as he was sure she would.
"But do you really think it was wise?" Peggy asked. "Aren’t you worried about how she'll turn out?"
"Turn out?" Rodney asked, not sure what she meant. For people who specialized in language, linguists could be so difficult to understand. "She's developing perfectly. Actually, the Ancient technology gives much more accurate and comprehensive information than we currently have for children in the womb."
"I meant…mentally. Emotionally. You've taken creating a human life into your own hands. Don't you worry that that isn't what we were meant to do? That she may not be… quite right?"
"She's not Frankenstein's creature!" Rodney yelped, horrified, glaring at both Peggy and Radek. At least Radek had the good grace to look embarrassed. Peggy didn't look at all mortified at making such a horrible suggestion. "Human life is merely a combination of building blocks, and she has the best on Atlantis."
"But how do you know? What if you open that machine and pull her out and she just… exists? Without thought? Or a soul?"
"Don't ever – don't ever – insult my daughter like that again." Rodney stood, shaking from the force of his anger. Out of the periphery of his vision, he realized that people at the closest tables were watching them, no doubt trying to overhear their conversation. He tried not to wonder how many of them knew he'd used John's DNA without his permission, or shared Peggy's horrifying pessimism. "I've lost my appetite," he said, grabbing his laptop and stalking out.
John sat on his bed, back against the headboard, idly strumming his guitar, trying to lose himself in the chords and not think about Rodney or his deception. Or their little girl. Or how wounded Rodney had looked in the cafeteria today. John had successfully avoided talking to Rodney for several days, but he couldn't help occasionally cross his path or notice him in the cafeteria, particularly when he was almost shaking from restrained anger. What had that woman said to him? Rumor was that she and Radek had had a squabble after Rodney left, so it must have offended Radek too. There was a firm knock on the door, and John wondered if Rodney had finally come to apologize. "Yeah?" he asked, raising his voice.
"Sheppard, it's Woolsey. We need to talk."
John sighed, putting the guitar by the side of the bed, sitting on the edge. "Come in."
Woolsey entered, his uniform as immaculate as ever. Many of the Atlanteans had started wearing local clothing, keeping their uniforms for missions. Even John had picked up a few extra shirts and trousers, mostly in black so they'd blend well. Woolsey must have brought an excessive number of uniforms with him or was good at mending. "John," he said, taking the seat. "Carson has provided me a full report, and I've been reviewing the laws."
"I see no reason to not use Earth legal precedents as a basis for our decisions."
Of course he wouldn't. Mostly Woolsey had turned out to be a decent leader, more ballsy than John had expected, but sometimes his anal bureaucratic roots showed. "And?"
"Carson believes that the device is working fine. It appears that the Ancients shut it down as unnecessary, not as malfunctioning. The baby girl should be born healthy."
"Okay," John said, not really sure what else to say.
"I'm inclined to let the child be born. It's almost full-term. And frankly, we need to increase our reproductive rate or add more Pegasus natives to our population if we intend to survive as a colony. If it works successfully, the device could be useful."
John shrugged. People seemed to be having plenty of babies, and it wasn't his business how they had more.
"Not that I intend to thank Rodney for discovering it, of course," Woolsey added quickly. "I'll put a reprimand in his official files. He shouldn't have made a unilateral decision to use it."
Rodney liked to make unilateral decisions, John thought about pointing out. He'd never been much of a team player, and he always thought he knew best. That was Rodney.
"So, assuming that there will soon be a child, I reviewed American and Canadian laws regarding parental rights and child support. In normal circumstances, the two of you would be equally responsible for the child and for supporting her."
"I didn't ask for it." *Her.*
"Yes, and in normal circumstances, you would at least have known that there was a possibility of conception, which obviously, in this case, you were completely unaware. If you wish to surrender your rights as a parent, I think we can consider Rodney the sole custodial parent with all rights and responsibilities. The little girl would have no claim on you now or forever."
John gave another shrug, though the way Woolsey put everything in normal earth terms, acting like he and Rodney were parents divorcing before the birth of their child, made him picture the child as a real little girl, just like he had during his conversation with Ronon in the gym. He wasn't quite sure he shared Woolsey's willingness to assign away his rights, though there wasn't any logical reason for him to hesitate. He'd never wanted to be a father.
And he definitely wasn't going to think about what growing up on Atlantis would be like for her, his unacknowledged daughter. Rodney had created this problem and Rodney could deal with it. Her. And damn Ronon for making him think about how neglected she would feel.
"The last question is whether you wish to press charges and have a formal hearing."
"Press charges? For what?"
"Theft of your DNA was precisely that, theft. This could be regarded as assault. I thought I would preside over the trial and we could do random selection for a jury panel. Lorne seems like the appropriate choice for the prosecuting attorney and the Wraith cell would make an effective jail. It would be awkward for Rodney to be imprisoned, but I'm sure Radek could cover his duties for however long a jury decides is an appropriate sentence."
John felt winded at the thoroughness of Woolsey's plans, even though he'd always known the man was an organizer. "You want to put Rodney on trial? And in jail? Isn't he supposed to be innocent until found guilty?"
"He is guilty by his own admission. The interesting question would be whether someone acting as his defense attorney could present extenuating circumstances that could excuse his actions. It's his decision who to ask, though I imagine Teyla would be an effective advocate, once she's had a chance to review the basics of the Earth legal system."
"You can't put Rodney in jail!" John said, his voice rising, imagining Rodney frantically pacing inside the bars that had held Steve the Wraith. The cell where John had killed the Wraith, shooting him again and again until he was dead.
"Of course I can. We have to be our own law now to maintain civilization and that includes imprisoning criminals."
Criminal? Rodney? Thoughtless and arrogant, but criminal? "Rodney – Rodney keeps Atlantis functioning. You can't lock him up."
"No citizen is above the law, John. No matter what a number of American presidents have liked to think."
"I won't let you lock him up."
Woolsey blinked, his eyes curious behind his glasses. "Are you refusing to press charges?"
John grabbed the option gratefully. "Yes! Yes, I am refusing to press charges. Rodney – Rodney had my permission to use my DNA and I'm not interested in losing my rights. That's my daughter being born. Mine and Rodney's. And that's what I'll swear in any court you cobble together."
"Very well. I'm glad that's the situation. It seems much better for everyone involved. I'll still put a reprimand in his file for unauthorized experimentation, and we'll consider the matter closed."
"You might as well put one in mine too."
Woolsey nodded. "Very well." He rose. "Then let me offer you my congratulations on the upcoming birth of your child."
"Thank you," John said numbly, watching as Woolsey walked out of his room, wondering what the hell had just happened.
Rodney had tried to pretend everything would be fine when the news came out, but he'd known the universe didn't like him. Frequently hated him, in fact. Still, he hadn't expected John to totally disown him, people to be gossiping behind his back, and to be completely unnerved by Jennifer's supposed 'gift,' which only made him dwell on everything that could go wrong. What would happen if his daughter inherited his allergies? How much epinephrine did they have in stock? Maybe he should assign the chemistry department to making more.
The knock on the door was a welcome distraction. "Come in," Rodney called, surprised when John entered and stood just inside the door, hands stuck in his back pockets, radiating suppressed energy. "John." He put the laptop down on the bed, and stood up, bracing himself to learn John's reason for finally approaching him.
"Woolsey came to see me. He's on one of his bureaucratic warpaths. He thinks you should be on trial for theft."
"Theft? Theft of what?"
"I didn’t – " think of it as theft, he started to say, realizing that many people would regard it so. He was a thief. His little girl would have a thief for her only parent.
"I told him you had my approval. He's going to put official reprimands in both our files."
"But he knows you didn't approve. You didn't even know what I was doing."
"I won't let him press charges against you, Rodney," John said adamantly.
The vow warmed Rodney. No matter how mad John was at him, he would still protect him. John was loyal, one of his many good qualities that he hoped their daughter would inherit. "Thank you, John."
"This doesn't mean that I forgive you."
"I know. I know it was wrong. I never meant to hurt you. I just…"
"Just what, Rodney? You wanted my goddamned gene and that was all that mattered?" John's words were snarled, but his eyes said he wanted to understand.
"Not just the ATA gene," Rodney answered hurriedly. John was listening to him, and Rodney knew he had to take this chance, had to be honest. "Though it was why I first thought of you. But I went through all Carson's samples. I didn't rush to make this decision. I thought a lot about using Elizabeth's DNA, because it would be a way for her to live on.
"But you were the only person I could imagine sharing a child with. You're my best friend and the best person I know. You're the person I most admire, the person I most enjoy spending time with. You're smart and brave and handsome. You're everything I would want my child to be."
John rubbed his chest, as if it hurt. "You want your child to be like me?"
"Well, I hope she has my brains and maybe not all your cowlicks but yes, I want her to be like you. And me. The best of both of us." He liked to picture her with John's eye and hair color, long and lean like him, but a face more like Jeannie's. Would she have the mannerisms and high energy that he and Jeannie shared, or be laidback and relaxed like John? He hoped she got John's good physical health, including his blood pressure and lack of allergies, though she did not need to inherit his recklessness.
Walking past Rodney, John rested one forearm on the window, leaning forward and staring at the ocean. "Do you want to know why I never wanted to be a dad?"
John was willing to talk about his feelings? "If you want to share," Rodney said tentatively.
"I was never good enough for my own dad. I couldn't do anything right. Dave could. I got – not really yelled at. Just disapproved. Constantly. I never – I never wanted to inflict that on a child."
"John, you wouldn't," Rodney protested, horrified to think that John feared he'd duplicate his father's mistakes. "You couldn't. You would be a great dad."
"How do you know that?"
"Because I know you. I've seen you with kids. You love them and they always love you."
That didn't seem to reassure John, who continued staring out the window. "That's other people's kids. It's easy with them."
"What, you think you could be an excellent uncle for Torren and then turn around and be a dick to your own kid? John." Rodney put a hand on John's shoulder, squeezing. "Listen to me. My parents sucked as parents too. They fought all the time and made Jeannie and me feel like burdens on them. But that doesn't mean you and I would repeat their mistakes. We won't. We're smarter. You and our little girl – you'll treat her like a princess and spoil her."
A tiny smile tugged at one side of John's mouth as he turned to face Rodney. "So maybe she'd end up being a brat."
Relief made Rodney feel almost giddy. "As long as she doesn't reach Harmony levels."
"Woolsey wanted to settle all the legal stuff. I wouldn't let him give you full responsibility," John said, like a confession.
When push came to shove, John hadn't surrendered their daughter. The lightheaded feeling increased until Rodney was almost dizzy. "So you do want to be involved? We can raise her together."
"Yeah, I'd like that."
"Good, you can read the scary books too."
"Jennifer brought me book files on childcare. With all the warnings about what may go wrong, I have to wonder how any child survives to grow up." Rodney sat on the bed, picking up his laptop. "I transferred all the files to my laptop, if you want the flash drive?"
"Yeah, that would be good. I've never been around kids much until Teyla had Torren." John accepted the flash drive, tucking it into his pocket.
"Me neither." Rodney grinned. "We can do this together."
For a moment, John looked hard again, and his voice had that rare steeliness. "And we are doing this together, Rodney. We make decisions together. No more surprises."
Rodney nodded eagerly. "Together, John."
John stood in Rodney's room, having promised to help raise a child he'd never wanted, and didn't feel like leaving right away. So he was a jerk with daddy and mommy issues, but he'd made a commitment now, a promise to his best friend, and he knew Rodney wouldn't let him down. Rodney could make some big blunders, but he learned from them. "So maybe you should show me everything. What you did and all."
"You want to see how the device works?"
"Yeah. I guess I should know."
As they walked to the lab, John listened to Rodney speak about the device. As always, he was amazed at the amount of effort Rodney had invested into deciphering the Ancient technology and making it work. Overachiever, thy name is Meredith Rodney McKay.
Focusing on Rodney's techno-babble, the way his eyes flashed and hands waved as he moved around the lab, explaining all the equipment, made John feel oddly sad. Rodney had done all this by himself, having given up on finding a relationship. Rodney could be difficult, arrogant, and high maintenance, but he was a great guy who would do anything necessary to protect Atlantis. He deserved to have someone who loved him.
John stepped closer to the device, peering in, trying to see their daughter through the nutrient fluids cradling her. "Have you thought about a name?"
The question seemed to startle Rodney. "Um, no. Did you have an idea?" he asked carefully.
"No. I never thought much about kids' names. We've got time, right?" Rodney nodded, and John backed away from the device. "We're going to need to live closer together. So we're both there when she needs feeding during the night."
"There are larger quarters a level up from mine. Ones with several rooms attached."
"Yeah, I know the ones you mean. You want to go look?"
"Sure," Rodney agreed, and it was surprisingly amiable, to wander around Atlantis, scouting out living quarters. He and Rodney had a lot of experience planning missions and logistics, so they fell into a cozy rhythm of bantering and brainstorming. Quarters with three bedrooms and a family room were perfect, except Rodney frowned when they stepped out on the balcony. "Were the Ancients insane? She could scoot right through the railings when she starts crawling. We'll have to barricade the door."
John knelt by the balcony, studying the railing and the big spaces between the posts. "I could fire up the welding equipment and close the gaps. Should be pretty easy to do. So we could still take her out for fresh air and not worry."
"You'll need to smooth the edges, so she doesn't cut herself."
"No one will even be able to tell it's not part of the original design."
"Good, good." They wandered back into the family room, discussing where to find a sofa and some comfortable chairs, deciding to use John's small fridge for baby food.
"This doesn’t seem so hard to arrange," John commented.
"But you can't bring your sparkly black curtains," Rodney blurted out. "She could strangle herself with a curtain string."
John shrugged. "That's fine. She's more important than curtains."
"I knew we could do it," Rodney grinned. "We'll be great dads."
"Yeah," John agreed, beginning to feel at peace with the notion. Maybe Rodney was right, that he could be a better dad than his own. For a second, standing in their future quarters, planning for their daughter, he wanted to lean over and kiss Rodney on his smiling mouth. It was the future he'd pictured, the two of them in Atlantis together. By having a daughter together, they'd really be a family, and no woman would get between them.
For Rodney, packing was never a troublesome task, just one of those necessary chores in order to relocate to a new school or job. Often he discovered items he'd thought lost, so going through everything he owned was generally useful.
Today packing made Rodney ridiculously happy. He sorted through the stacks littered around his room, stuffing items in boxes in a semi-methodical order, occasionally putting aside things that belonged to someone else but had managed to migrate to his room.
Rodney gave a distracted "Hmm?" while turning to see Radek in the doorway.
"You were not answering."
"Packing," he explained happily, shuffling through the stacks of objects and papers on his desk. Everything was electronic; how did he keep ending up with printed documents? Would he finally be able to avoid paper when they ran out of ink for the printers?
"You are moving?"
"John and I found bigger quarters. So we have room for our daughter."
"He has accepted her then?"
"Yes, of course," Rodney answered. Surely John would have accepted their daughter anyway, even without Woolsey's ridiculous threat to imprison him.
"I am glad for you two. It has been obvious for so long."
"Hmm?" Rodney asked, trying to decide whether to sort out his brilliant notes from his scribblings about people for their personnel evaluations. The two always became intertwined because Rodney could only stand to write about his staff for a short period without a break. "What's been obvious?"
"That you and Sheppard." Radek waved his hands in a complicated gesture that could have meant anything from 'good vodka' to 'extreme danger.'
"John and I what?"
"That the two of you are involved."
Rodney looked at Radek blankly. "Of course we're involved. We've been on the same team for years."
"Romantically," Radek clarified with a sigh. "You two are romantically involved."
"Romantically? That's one of the most absurd theories you've ever had. Who said we're involved romantically?"
"You are moving in together."
"To raise our daughter."
"To be a family."
"Well, yes," Rodney agreed, smiling, feeling that mellow glow of happiness again. He would have a real family, not just a sister who had her own family. "But that doesn't mean we're involved romantically. John is military and straight." Which was really a shame, because John was incredibly attractive, and Rodney had occasionally fooled around with fellow scientists, late at night, waiting for results and strung out on coffee and excitement. He certainly wouldn't mind seeing John all flushed and trembling.
"So much that he wants to live with you."
Getting a Nobel would be deserved; a romantic relationship with John was beyond the realms of possibility. Thinking about the sex with John that was never going to happen made Rodney cranky. "Did you have some reason for coming here? Or did you just want to interrupt my packing?"
"Peggy is most upset that she upset you."
Rodney rolled his eyes. "She's upset? She compared my child to Frankenstein's monster!"
"You were the one who brought up Frankenstein. She only noted that the results of your experiment are unknown. The Ancients were not always reliable when making their notes."
"She said my baby wouldn't have a soul!"
Radek sighed. "That is not what she said, Rodney. And she is sorry that she raised the issue at all. But you must be prepared, yes?"
"No, I must not! There is no reason to accept any possibility but a happy, healthy child."
"Any birth of a child can go wrong, Rodney, much less one that hasn't been tried for 10,000 years."
"Hey, what's up?" John stood in the doorway, having entered without either of them hearing.
"Radek's girlfriend thinks our daughter will be a monster."
"That is not what she said."
"Oh, pardon me, a soul without a personality. Not a monster."
Radek threw up his hands. "You do not listen when you get like this." He gave a glance at John. "I will leave him to you. You know how to deal with him."
Rodney fumed as Radek stalked out, but his attention was distracted by John walking in, placing one hand on the small of his back, and rubbing soothingly. "People are always afraid of change, Rodney. They'll adjust."
"Jennifer thought it was 'cool.' She’s ready to mass produce for homosexuals."
"Jennifer's a doctor. She’s had more experience with different methods of conception. It’s not really all that different from in vitro."
"I'm glad you understand that," Rodney said, leaning into John, whose hand moved up to make calming circles over his entire back. John's stroking felt so good, reassuring and soothing, making Rodney acutely conscious of how long it had been since he'd been touched. He hadn't even cuddled with anyone since he'd broken up with Jennifer. "John? What are you doing?"
Rodney regretted asking, because John's wonderful stroking stopped, and John took a step away. Rodney's brain reminded his body that distance was good. He and John were good friends, raising a child together, and that's all John would want. "We’ll have to be more hands on. Babies need cuddling."
"Yes, yes, that’s good. We can practice on each other. To get ready for the baby." He'd have to jerk off a lot in the shower to cope with the daily torture, but John was right. He'd rarely seen his parents touch or kiss or show affection. He and John should set a better example.
"Yeah. I was going to pick up some boxes from storage. You want some?"
"Yes, um," Rodney glanced around his room. "As many as you can bring me?"
"Come on. We can both get them." Arms lightly bumping, they left Rodney's room, both intent on moving and settling down in their new home.
Rodney was generally right, but when he was wrong, he was absolutely wrong. Childcare books were fascinating in John's opinion. It wasn't 'here's some small scrap of humanity, figure out how to deal with it' but explanations for why babies cried or smiled and strategies for making sure your child was happy and safe. John was steadily devouring everything in their database, and feeling like he had at least theoretical knowledge of the subject made him feel more confident about their girl's approaching birth.
He glanced over at Rodney, who was sitting in the armchair, feet propped on the coffee table, typing on his laptop. Writing up a new hypothesis, John guessed. His typing was always faster, more confident, when dealing with his own research. Living together was working out well. They'd often hung out together in the evenings, usually watching movies, so doing it in their shared living room hadn't made a difference, though now they spent some nights just reading quietly. Their bedrooms were an available retreat, not that either of them seemed to need it much.
"Sheppard. The baby's coming."
John touched his earpiece, answering Ronon with, "I'll bring Rodney and see you at the infirmary." Ronon didn't respond, being a man who never spoke if not absolutely necessary. "Jennifer's having her baby," he told Rodney, shutting down his laptop before reaching down for his shoes.
They headed to the infirmary, settling in the waiting area for the long haul. They'd been through this already, with Teyla's little girl and the other children born on Atlantis. It was half-tense anticipation, half-party time, people hanging in the hallways outside the infirmary, drifting in and out of the waiting area, some bringing food or drinks, everyone waiting for the latest update on contractions or the number of centimeters dilated.
"Hey, we don't have to go through this, do we?" John asked Rodney after a couple of hours. He was leaning against the wall while Rodney paced. People were scattered around the room in little clumps. Teyla and Kanaan were chatting in low voices, each holding a kid, while Lorne made small talk with Katie, who had her hands on her lower back, emphasizing the growing swell of her belly.
"Go through this? What do you mean?"
"We just crack it open and pull her out and Carson cleans her up, right?" John had been surprised to read that babies weren't smacked on their little butts anymore. Yet another reason that childcare books were cool; he didn't look idiotic, operating only on information from movies. Not that he'd ever minded appearing less than perfect, but he didn't want to be a stupid dad.
"Yes, we open the device when she's ready to be born and take her out."
"Cool," John said. "Not that this isn't good, but – "
"I delivered Torren, if you remember. A stress-free birth for our daughter will be fine with me."
"Cool," John repeated, and the infirmary doors opened, Carson walking out.
The doctor held up his hands before anyone could ask a question. "It'll be several more hours yet. You might as well go to bed and there should be a wee baby in the morning."
People looked disappointed, but began straggling off, several of them stopping first to give Carson messages to pass along to Jennifer. Teyla clearly wanted to stay, but Torren and Charin were starting to fuss, so she and Kanaan reluctantly left. John and Rodney hung back until the others had cleared out.
"Aye, come in for a quick visit," Carson said, guessing their wishes and waving them into the infirmary. "And if you could stop by the cafeteria and bring meals back for Ronon and me, that would be a kindness."
"I'm not hungry," Ronon said, his sense of hearing always acute, though his eyes were fixed firmly on Jennifer as she hung on his arm, walking slowly around the infirmary.
"You should eat," she scolded gently. "You need to keep up your strength."
"I've got plenty of strength."
"We'll bring you back a tray. Just in case," John said. "You doing okay?" he asked Jennifer.
"Peachy." She winced, gripping Ronon’s arm together. "No offense, Rodney, but I’m glad I’m doing this with Ronon."
"What?" Rodney responded, his tone blank, and John watched the color spread over his face, a red flush of embarrassment and humiliation.
"Well, it's just – " Jennifer paused. "Never mind me. Pregnant lady in pain." She gave an odd hiccupping giggle.
"We'll go get you the food," John said hastily, grabbing Rodney's arm, dragging him out of the infirmary. “She didn't mean anything by that,” he said as they walked down the hallway.
"No, of course not," was Rodney’s bitter reply. "She merely meant she'd rather be married to Ronon than me, like every other woman in the Pegasus Galaxy. Or you. They'd all be happy to be married to you."
"Rodney," John replied helplessly, not sure what to say to appease his friend's despair. That Rodney was crap with women was an undeniable fact. That women were too stupid to see Rodney's good qualities under the social awkwardness and egotism had been the saving grace in John's opinion, that he'd rarely had to share his buddy. "She's in labor and in a lot of pain. She probably meant Ronon has a stronger arm to hold."
"Yes, I'm sure." The evident bitterness in Rodney's voice made John stop and grab his arm.
"It doesn't matter anyway. It's you and me now."
"Yes." Rodney cleared his throat, reassured by the firmness of John's statement. "You and me."
It was very early when a hand touched his shoulder. "Rodney?"
Rodney responded by fumbling for the hand, taking it in his and pulling to hold it to his chest, his face still pressed into the pillow. "Hmm?"
"Jennifer had her boy. He's being cleaned up now."
The news woke Rodney up, making him realize he'd been cuddling John's hand, and he hastily released it. "Oh, good. That's good. I'm glad for Ronon. For them."
"You want to get up and visit him before the hordes descend?"
His bed was warm and snuggly, but Rodney had gotten out of bed too early for reasons a lot less pleasant than seeing a new baby, so he assented, and they got dressed, strolling down to the infirmary, too late to be first, as Teyla was sitting on the edge of Jennifer's bed, admiring the baby cradled in Jennifer's arms. Ronon was sitting partially behind her, one arm wrapped around her, happier than Rodney had ever seen him.
"Rodney, John." Jennifer beamed at them. "Come look at him. Isn't he perfect?" They did, admiring his dark hair and the perfection of his tiny fingers curled around one of his father's much larger ones. After that things got in a bit of a muddle, last night's party atmosphere quickly reviving, people entering and exiting, seemingly all of Atlantis dropping by to briefly admire the newest resident. It struck Rodney that soon he and John would be the new parents at the center of this excitement, and he snuck a peek at John from the corner of his eye. John seemed supportive, at ease, but then he always did.
"Rodney," Jennifer called, waving him over. For once she wasn't surrounded by anyone, only Ronon still sitting by her, the baby being passed around by his admirers, and Rodney approached reluctantly. "Rodney, I wanted to apologize for what I said last night." She caught his hand, squeezing it. "I just meant – I was squeezing Ronon so hard, I think I was leaving bruises. I didn't mean anything against you."
"Of course," Rodney said, too heartily. "You and Ronon are perfect together. You'll be great parents."
Then one of John's hands curved over his shoulder, as he stood protectively close.
"And you two will be great parents too." Jennifer smiled. "You've always been so – well, like Kirk and Spock. Peanut butter and chocolate."
"Peanut butter and chocolate?" Rodney asked, perplexed, wondering if giving birth made women loopy. He'd compared John to Kirk in the past, and undoubtedly he was as intelligent as Spock, but he failed to see the connection between two fictional characters and two food groups.
John spoke before Jennifer could explain. "You're probably ready to rest. We'll get some breakfast and see you later."
"And after breakfast, your lessons can begin," Teyla announced.
"Lessons?" Rodney and John said together.
"It is time that you started helping me with Torren and Charin, practice for your own child."
Ronon grinned, highly amused. "Yeah, and then you can help Jennifer and me. You'll be experts at diaper changing before your kid arrives."
Rodney and John exchanged looks, Rodney surprised that John didn't seem as dismayed, instead appearing determined. "That sounds good. We'll come to your quarters after breakfast," he told Teyla, pulling Rodney toward the infirmary door, stopping when they almost bumped into Radek and Peggy.
"First, a small present for the two of you?" Radek asked.
"Yes, what?" Rodney snapped, the lack of breakfast and the imminent prospect of diapers putting him in a bad temper, not helped by seeing Peggy again.
"It was something Peggy suggested, and she has been helping me do the research."
"Radek's really done the research," Peggy protested. "I just helped with the translation."
The last thing that interested Rodney was people making false disclaimers of modesty. "Yes, yes, let's see it." He held out his hand for whatever it was, but Radek shook his head.
"You have to be shown." He started to walk out of the infirmary. Rodney gave John a disgruntled look, but John shrugged and started to follow. Radek led them to the jumper bay.
As they walked into a jumper, Peggy said, "I just thought – no one's taken our children off Atlantis yet. But I know how much the colonel loves to fly and – "
"Here." Radek pointed to one of the backseats, where a large Athosian-made teddy bear was waiting for them. "We just needed to realize that there was a command. Colonel, think 'protect' at the bear."
John studied the bear, reaching out with his mind, thinking at the jumper as if he was flying her, and strands of webbing slid smoothly out of the walls, wrapping securely around the bear. "That's so cool."
"It's only the back seats. Apparently the Ancients assumed that adults would sit up front."
John knelt down, examining the bear and the webbing, grabbing hold and trying to move the bear within the webbing. "It's strapped in completely."
"It didn't seem logical that the Ancients would never take children in jumpers. But there are no obvious signs of jumper baby seats, so something had to be hidden."
"This is so cool. Isn't this cool, Rodney? Thank you Radek." John leaped up from the floor and hugged Radek, who waved at Peggy.
"Really it was – "
"Yes, and thank you Peggy." John gave her a big hug too. "Right, Rodney?"
"Yes, yes." Given the refugee children that they'd rescued over the years, they should have thought to look for Radek and Peggy's discovery long ago, but they hadn't, relying only on the inertial dampeners, which wouldn't prevent an active toddler from falling off the seat. Considering the number of times they'd rescued refugees from Wraith who had then chased them, that thoughtlessness had been dangerous. Rodney pictured John flying the puddle jumper, talking to their daughter in the back seat, with her safe and secure. "Thank you," he said. "Um, both of you."
"For fun, and in case of trouble, yes? We have checked all the jumpers and made sure the command works."
"My sister's children often needed to be driven to make them sleep. Maybe your daughter will need to be flown," Peggy offered, smiling at John.
Rodney stepped deliberately next to John, curling his hand around John's wrist. "Yes, thank you. Excellent research, Radek. Good translation, Peggy. Breakfast now before I pass out?" he asked John, not liking how Peggy smiled at John, determined to make it clear that Rodney and their daughter came first in John's priorities.
"Sounds great." John gave him a big smile. "I'm starving."
After a week of handling baby duties for Teyla, Ronon, and several other Atlanteans who seemed to agree John and Rodney needed hands-on practice, John decided it was time for a return to their Saturday night routine. He grabbed a bottle of Athosian moonshine, found Rodney in the lab, and hauled him toward the East Pier. Rodney didn’t resist and somewhere along the way, John's grip, which had started on Rodney's wrist, shifted so they were walking hand in hand by the time they stepped outside, only releasing each other to sit on the edge of the pier.
They settled down companionably, feet dangling off the pier, taking turns sipping from the bottle. The beer from Earth was long gone, but the moonshine was a decent substitute. "It's been a good week," John said.
"Even children love you," Rodney groused. "Everyone wants to be held and cuddled by John Sheppard."
John bumped his shoulder against Rodney's. "You're getting the hang of it."
"I'll never get the hang of diapers."
"At least we've avoided getting sprayed." They'd been warned, but both had still jerked back and giggled out of shock the first time Ronon's son had sprayed straight up, getting pee all over himself. Jennifer had glared, showing them how to hold a diaper for absorption so her son wouldn't get wet.
"I never meant to cause problems," Rodney blurted out. "I only wanted a child to inherit my genius. I deserve happiness too."
"You do," John agreed. Rodney looked vulnerable in the moonlight, one side of his mouth characteristically turned down, blue eyes troubled. "And you will be happy. You and me and our daughter."
"I can build an atomic bomb but I don't know how I thought I could raise a baby alone. I don't want to do this without you, John. You're a natural and they're so fragile."
"You won't have to," John promised, sliding his fingertips over the skin of Rodney's pale cheek.
"John?" Rodney asked in confusion, then was quiet as John's fingers learned his lips before sliding down to cup his chin.
John's left hand joined in, framing the other side of Rodney's face, holding him while John leaned over, caressing Rodney's lips briefly with his own.
"What are you doing?"
"We're going to be committed to each other for the rest of our lives, Rodney. We'll always have a daughter to share. Maybe grandkids."
Rodney licked his lips, wetting them, making John yearn for another taste. "The rest of our lives is a long time."
"They'll be good years." John took another taste, compelled to experience Rodney's lips again and again, until the loud noise of Rodney whining in the back of his throat brought him to awareness that he'd pushed Rodney to the ground, covering his upper body with his own.
"Are you suddenly gay? Or just insane?"
"You taste good."
"I'm a man."
John rubbed his thumb on Rodney's belly where his shirt had ridden up. "Yeah. I've noticed."
"You're not acting like you've noticed. You're acting like you've forgotten. Or become delusional."
John sat up abruptly, pulling himself away from the temptation of Rodney's soft flesh. He'd thought that since Rodney wasn't pushing him away, he liked what John was doing. But the vocal protest was continuing too long. "I'm sorry. I didn’t mean to bother you."
"You're not bothering me." Rodney sat up, putting his palm against the small of John's back, as John had done to him earlier. "I liked it. I liked kissing you. But I don't want you to feel obligated."
"I don't feel obligated."
"Then what's going on? What do you feel?"
John swung his feet, staring at the water below, not sure what to say.
"Do you really… want me?"
Looking at Rodney, John tried to let all the feelings he couldn’t express show on his face. "Yes."
"Wow." Rodney cupped John’s face, bringing their lips together in a ravenous kiss. John moaned, kissing him back with equal fierceness. "Really?" Rodney asked, beaming in wonder when their lips separated.
"Yeah. Really." John swung his legs onto the pier and stood, offering a hand to Rodney, who took it without hesitation. "Let's go to our place."
They held hands again as they walked through the halls of Atlantis. Rodney was excruciatingly conscious of the warmth of John's fingers tangled in his own. He hadn't had sex in a very long time, and he'd only ever had fumbling hand jobs with a man. With John, he wanted to try more. Kissing and holding and their bodies completely naked and blowjobs and everything. John had been by his side since they'd first come to the Pegasus Galaxy. There was no one he trusted more, and considering John's expertise with the opposite sex, he was undoubtedly fantastic at it. His kisses on the pier had certainly been exciting.
They walked into their shared living room, John pulling them toward Rodney's bedroom. "You've got the bigger bed," he said almost apologetically.
"I'd rather not fall off yours," Rodney agreed, following him into the bedroom.
"So…" John stepped right next to him as the lights dimmed to a quarter of their normal strength. "How do you want to do this?"
Rodney was surprised by John's hesitation. "Are you nervous?"
"I haven't had a lot of sex with guys," John admitted. "A couple of hand jobs here and there. And never with my best friend."
"Oh." He hadn't expected John to admit to inexperience, though that was oddly touching, and the thought that they'd be learning together was even hotter than relying on John's knowledge. John's emphasis on their being best friends made Rodney smile. "The kissing was good. We could do more of that."
"Yeah. That was good." John had always been inclined to action, because then they were kissing again. Adjusting to the different body type was odd but pleasing. Not breasts, no curves, just a flat, lean body in his arms, their erections steadily growing to nudge against each other. Rodney's head was tilted back for the first time, as John was his only partner who'd been taller.
John really was a fabulous kisser, perfect pressure, good use of tongue and lips, the small part of Rodney's brain that was still functioning noted. His mouth alone was so distracting that Rodney was breathing heavily before he noticed that John's hands were moving, coasting up and down his sides, tugging his shirt up, exposing his stomach. "What are you – " Rodney tried to ask, but John took advantage of the break in kissing to pull his shirt over his head. His eyes were dark in a way Rodney had never seen as he stared at Rodney's chest.
Self-consciously, Rodney looked down too, seeing pale skin and curly brown hair, not understanding John's absorption.
"God, your nipples are so hot."
"Yeah. They are. Pink and pretty." John bent his head to take one in his mouth, using his fingers to play with the other one. The sudden attack made Rodney arch his back and give a startled hiss. In Rodney's experience, women tended to ignore men's nipples as unimportant, but his were obviously hardwired straight to his dick and the pleasure centers of his brain. He curled his fingers in John's hair, giving a whimpering moan.
John lifted his head to stare into his eyes. "You really like that."
"Oh god, yes. Don't stop."
"It's hot. The way you respond."
"Yes, do more, and I'll keep responding," Rodney complained.
John ordered, "Undo your pants," and returned to the delicious licking and sucking.
Rodney obeyed, fumbling at his belt and button and zipper. Why were pants so complicated? And then he fumbled with John's, because that seemed like a crucial next step, but he couldn't see with John's head in the way, so his hands brushed on John's groin while searching, and lingered there, cupping John's cock, feeling the increasing pressure and fullness.
"God." John lifted his head. "Do that more." So Rodney did, fondling John through his trousers, stroking his hand up and down the length of John's fly. "Yeah. That feels really good."
"If I could get your pants off, I could make it feel even better," Rodney promised, and that had them both stepping back, tearing at their own clothes, kicking shoes away, until both stood naked. Normally Rodney would feel self-conscious, aware of the imperfections of his body, but his comfort with John, and the desire in John's eyes, made him feel… hot. Very hot and sexy.
Then John was back in his space, the full length of their bodies touching, as John took Rodney's cock in one hand. "This feel good?" he asked, beginning to stroke.
"God, yes." Rodney reached eagerly for John's, feeling it leap in his hand. "And this?"
Experimentally, they both pumped a few times, getting familiar with the feel of each other. "Should we stand? Or get into bed?" Rodney asked, and that seemed like a good idea, so they settled into bed, falling into more kissing before their hands wandered down to take up position again.
"I like this," John said, his head propped up on one hand, his other busy making Rodney's cock happy.
"Believe me, I like this a lot. Really, a lot." They both watched intently, gazing into each other's eyes, or occasionally looking at their dicks, getting stiffer and leaking more pre-com, and superficially, it was like any other hand job Rodney had ever known, two guys getting off. But the affection in John's expression made everything completely different, friendship and desire mixed together and indivisible. When Rodney came, he curled an arm around John's shoulders, pulling him abruptly into one last, passionate kiss, groaning his pleasure into John's mouth, hearing John's answering moan, tasting his mouth, and feeling the warmth cover both their hands.
"That was great," John said, before reluctantly hoisting himself up and going to the bathroom to return with a warm washcloth, wiping them both down.
"We could do more," Rodney suggested. "Frottage, blow jobs. I'd bottom, if you wanted to try."
"Oh yeah." The heat in John's eyes made Rodney want to roll over and stick his ass up, but they were both in their 40s. "We can work up to that. And I'd do whatever you want to try too."
For that offer, Rodney had to grab John, pull him back into bed, and kiss him some more, until he began to wonder if their lips would be obviously bruised in the morning. Eventually, by unspoken consent, they gathered the blankets over themselves and prepared to go to sleep.
Before he drifted off, Rodney stirred, raising his head from John's chest. "We won't have to fake affection in front of our daughter."
"No." John ran his fingers down Rodney's arm, as if he needed to touch him again. "Her dads – " he swallowed. "She'll know love from her dads. And see it between them."
Rodney couldn't stop jittering, pacing around the lab, rechecking the displays. "Where are they? We have an appointment. Don't they know what day it is?"
"Rodney." John caught Rodney's hands, holding them reassuringly. "They'll be here. We were early." Which was kinda surprising, since they'd taken their time lingering in bed, one of their new favorite activities. For the first time since Woolsey had quashed all non-essential missions, John was grateful for his free time, and the chance to invest it in learning everything about what drove Rodney crazy in a 'oh god, harder, now, you bastard' way.
As if on command, the door swooshed open. Teyla came in first, followed by Jennifer and Ronon, their baby in a sling across Ronon's chest, Carson in gloves with a nurse pushing a bassinet, and finally Woolsey. "Yes, about time," Rodney snapped.
"We're right on time," Carson said patiently. He fussed with his equipment, and then said, "I'm ready."
It was, John supposed, even faster than a caesarean, as there wasn't any mother to cut open. Rodney pushed a few buttons, and the machine's subtle hum tapered down as the top slowly opened. Carson reached in and gently detached the baby, bringing her out and cleaning her off. John had often seen Carson treat people, but he'd never been so impressed with his calm and speed.
"She has hair," Rodney said in wonder. "Black hair. Oh, me first?" he squeaked, his voice rising in alarm as Carson held her toward him.
"Take her, Rodney," John slid his arms around Rodney's waist, peering over his shoulder as Rodney cradled their daughter in his arms. "She's gorgeous."
"Diana McKay Sheppard?" Rodney asked to verify. They'd agreed on the name one afternoon, sitting on their balcony, admiring John's metal work, but he wanted to make sure John still liked it.
"Yeah. That's perfect," John agreed. In the security of Rodney's arms, Diana waved her hands and opened her eyes. They were calm and curious, green with flecks of hazel like John's.
"And the time was…" Woolsey punched a few keys on his PDA. "Seven sixteen a.m. on Wednesday, September twenty-fifth, at McMurdo. Diana McKay Sheppard, born with joint Canadian and American citizenship. Carson?"
"Aye, I'll get you the length and weight to add later."
The administrative niceties might be unnecessary, but being ready to have the Air Force issue birth certificates for all the babies born on Atlantis seemed to make Woolsey happy, and no one wanted to suggest he stop.
"I know you'll want to spend some time with your daughter, but I've given Evan and Dave tentative permission to use the crèche next. As soon as you have time, Rodney, could you prepare it for the next birth?"
"He can start on it now. I'll need to take her to the infirmary for a full cleaning and check-up. And no, Rodney, you canna observe." Carson patted the side of the bassinet, and Rodney obeyed, gently lowering her in. "You can start fussing over everything I do on her next visit."
"Just one more minute," Rodney begged, as he and John stroked her soft cheeks, admired the perfection of her tiny fingers and toes while she stared in wonder at her dads.
That night, John stripped down to his boxer shorts and put on a t-shirt, glancing self-consciously at Rodney, who was doing the same. He'd gotten to enjoy curling up with him every night, skin to skin, but it didn't seem right with Diana in the bassinet next to the bed.
"I'm too exhausted anyway," Rodney said ruefully, as if reading his thoughts.
"Ronon says it gets better. She'll sleep more."
"She couldn't sleep less," Rodney grumbled, but he stroked a finger over her incredibly soft cheek and smiled as he said it. The day had been amazing, but stressful, learning when she needed to be fed, burped, changed, or swaddled, both he and John fully participating in the chores and loving every minute, though both had fumbled several times in their nervousness. Practicing had been useful, not that he was going to admit it.
John came to stand by him, stroking her equally as gently. She was swaddled in a white blanket, eyes closed as she slept. "Thank you," he said. "If I haven't said that. Just… thank you." He cupped Rodney's face, giving him a tender kiss on his lips. "I never knew – "
"Yes. Me neither." Rodney cleared his throat, breaking the intensity of the moment. "Now let's get our promised two hours of sleep before she wakes again." They got into bed, spooning on their sides, facing Diana, and John thought the lights off.
Diana was sleeping, secure in the sling against Rodney’s chest, as he checked over the week’s stats. Power usage was within acceptable parameters, maintenance needs had been limited. Woolsey would be pleased.
The gate lit up, and Chuck announced, "Unscheduled offworld activation."
Rodney tapped on his earpiece. "John. We’ve got an unscheduled offworld activation." Watching the chevrons lock, Rodney debated whether he should take Diana to the safety of their rooms. None of the teams were offworld, so this had to be initiated by someone else – someone potentially hostile.
"On my way."
The noise brought Woolsey out of his office, and John, Ronon and Teyla all rushed in as the final chevron locked, the silver swoosh signaling the successful formation of a wormhole. "Raising the shield," Chuck intoned, as the barrier solidified, preventing anyone from coming through the gate. John stood next to Rodney, touching Diana on her cheek as she slept, undisturbed by the excitement, and Rodney was glad he’d stayed. If it was danger, he'd want John close.
"Atlantis, this is Stargate command," came an audio signal in Samantha Carter’s voice.
Several people whooped, the loudest being Ronon.
"Stargate command, this is Richard Woolsey. It’s good to hear from you," Woolsey said, smiling as crazily as the rest of them.
"I’m sorry we took a while to get through to you. We’ve had some craziness in the galaxy and problems with the stargate system."
"Believe me, we’re very happy to hear from you."
"I knew you’d get through to us, Sam," Rodney called, giddy at the thought of connecting with Earth, being able to see his sister again, and introduce Diana to Madison. She was going to adore her little cousin.
"I wish I could take the credit, but there’s someone else who deserves it."
"Rodney?" Jeannie asked.
"Jeannie! Have I got news for you!" Rodney grinned at John, surprised that he was staring at their daughter in her sling, his lower lip dropping into an unhappy pout.
"Colonel Carter," Woolsey said, taking control of the conversation, standing close to John and Rodney. "Could you tell me the status of don’t ask, don’t tell?"
"Don’t ask, don’t tell?" Carter’s voice was surprised, as if she hadn’t expected that to be an immediate concern. "President Obama repealed it. And the Supreme Court has ruled that marriage is a civil right for all people, including homosexuals."
"I’m glad to hear it." Woolsey glanced at Rodney, who realized he’d asked the question for John’s benefit.
"Rodney? What’s your news?" Jeannie asked, but Rodney couldn’t answer her immediately.
He was too busy kissing John, their daughter making a little squirmy noise as they pressed her between them.
~ the end ~