Lieutenant Stacy Telford stood outside the door and took a moment to collect herself, smoothing her uniform to make sure every crease was perfect, wanting to present a professional appearance. She'd never quite decided which was worse, scientists or soldiers. Scientists were generally more creative, using their formidable intellects to think of clever ways to do things that no, they couldn't do, no matter how much they thought they should be allowed to, no siree bob. On the other hand, soldiers tended to think they could order, intimidate, or cajole her into changing the facts for the benefit of her brethren, which had a unique tediousness of its own.
And now she had to deal with one of each at the same time. And not just any scientist or soldier, but McKay and Sheppard. Admittedly, the Colonel was pretty cool, very easy to deal with, and seemingly so laidback she wondered how he could command, but scuttlebutt said he was ferocious and steadfast in battle, and she trusted scuttlebutt. Despite his air of surfer-calm, she'd found him a little scary since their first meeting when he'd found an error – a typo for Pete's sake, when she never made typos, particularly with 6 weeks on the Daedelus with not much to do but triple check everything – and then his eyes flicked over the rest of the return and he'd blithely announced the new final result, obviously calculating everything in his head. *In his head.*
And McKay…she shuddered. She tried to forget her skirmishes with McKay.
She pinged the door and it slid open promptly, McKay standing in the doorway, Alexander held to his chest with one arm. At least, she presumed it was Alexander. Babies mostly looked alike to her at this age, but this one did seem to have McKay's nose and she'd heard the girl had escaped that dire genetic fate.
"Oh, it's you!" McKay exclaimed, as if she'd showed up without an appointment. Or as if he'd discovered a particularly virulent germ strand, or whatever nasty things astrophysicists found. A new form of Wraith perhaps.
"Rodney, play nice," said a lazy voice.
McKay stepped back, letting Stacy step in, and she saw Sheppard sitting on the couch, feet propped on the low table in front of him. Living with McKay seemed to agree with him, as he didn't look stressed or prematurely gray, but his perpetual state of relaxation, lean body dressed in the black Atlantis expedition uniform with his hair messy and a smile on his face. Kathleen was sitting on his lap, her attention focused on a toy in her hands. The twins definitely resembled each other, big green eyes and rosy, chubby faces and bodies, but Kathleen's hair was a shade darker and longer, wispy strands brushing past her neck.
"Come in, Lieutenant. Have a chair."
Stacy sat as directed in the chair opposite the couch while McKay parked himself by Sheppard, sitting nervously on the edge of the couch, his posture very dramatically different from Sheppard's casualness. Stacy fervently hoped that the presence of Sheppard and his children would restrain McKay from yelling. Not that she couldn't handle people who yelled, she couldn't have survived basic training otherwise, but McKay was so very articulate, emotional, and long-winded in his yelling. To make matters worse, soldiers who worked for the SGC were drilled to protect and respect the scientists, so she didn't even feel she was allowed to be intimidating in return.
"Colonel, Kathleen." As if understanding her name, Kathleen looked up from her stuffed toy and gave a gurgling laugh, showing off a smile that shared Sheppard's lopsidedness. Stacy had to smile back.
"You haven't met the kids yet, have you? Kathleen, Alexander, say hello to the nice Lieutenant. She's here to help your daddies with their taxes."
"Kathleen, Alexander. It's good to meet you," Stacy said brightly, wondering if there was anything else she should say directly to them and deciding not to risk sounding absurd with baby talk. "They're beautiful children," she added.
"You are, aren't you?" McKay said to Alexander, lifting him in the air, bringing him to rub noses. "Beautiful Alexander. Beautiful children. Most beautiful babies in Atlantis," he cooed. Cooed, for Pete's sake, Stacy thought, staring in fascination at McKay's obvious happiness, and stopped herself from noting aloud that they were the only babies in Atlantis.
"You want anything to drink, eat? We keep a lot more food on hand in our quarters now. Kinda have to." Sheppard jogged one knee and Kathleen giggled again, apparently at ease with her world moving.
"No, thank you. I've just had lunch with Dr. Zelenka and gone through his returns with him. It's amazing how different other countries handle their taxes. It's quite a challenge to run all the forms through translation programs and make sure I have all the necessary documents before coming out here."
The Colonel gave a nod and asked, "So what have you got for us?"
Stacy noted neither one of them looked particularly interested in the complexities of ensuring that a small group of people from many different countries were able to file their taxes from another galaxy, so she dropped that subject and moved on. "I know we made this appointment for the same time, but I wasn't sure if you wanted to discuss your finances together..."
"Yeah, sure. Our situations are rather tied together these days."
"Good, that makes it easier. The issue of the twins and who should claim them is really the major factor in your decision making process."
"Oh, God, you're going to split them up, aren't you?" McKay blurted out, finally stopping his baby talking and nose rubbing. "One for each of us?" He sounded oddly horrified at the idea, and placed Alexander on his lap, arms around him protectively as if Stacy was Solomon proposing to cleave them in two.
The Colonel's hand rested on McKay's knee and squeezed. "It would only be on paper."
"Actually, I'm not proposing that the twins be split up."
"I suppose John should claim both. Air Force dependents."
Stacy smiled cheerfully, determinedly, wondering how McKay accomplished anything as a scientist, the way he leapt to conclusions without facts. Or was that what scientists were supposed to do? It had been a long time since her last science class. Maybe she should google the scientific method one day, because no way was she going to sound that clueless by asking anyone around the SGC. "I'm proposing that you claim both, Dr. McKay."
"First of all, thank you for forwarding the copies of the children's birth certificates," Stacy dug in her bag, pulling out three manila folders, neatly labeled 'Sheppard,' 'McKay,' and 'Sheppard-McKay.' She put the first by the Colonel's feet, the second by McKay, and the third carefully in the middle. "I obtained both their SSNs and SINs, and opened files for them at the SGC, for whatever paperwork you need us to handle for them."
"SIN? What's an SIN?" Sheppard asked lazily.
"Social Insurance Number. It's the Canadian equivalent of our Social Security number."
"Seriously?" The Colonel gave a mocking look at McKay and Stacy noticed his hand was still resting on the other man's knee. "You guys have a number for sin? You never told me." His voice deepened and he blatantly batted his eyelashes, and if Stacy didn't know better, she'd think the Colonel was truly flirting with the Doctor and not merely joking around to ease his obvious tension.
McKay rolled his eyes. "Yes, ha ha. I swear you Americans are born both puerile as well as prudish."
"Anyway," Stacy said briskly, trying to keep them on track, "since the Colonel really doesn't pay taxes – "
"Wait, wait, wait, what do you mean, he doesn't pay taxes? How does he not pay taxes?"
Stacy managed not to wince, having learned early in her career as an Air Force accounting officer that a cheerful blankness was frequently the best response. "The active duty pay of the members of the Stargate Project has been exempt from taxation for several years now. It's a fairly standard designation for combat pay in a time of war."
"No, no, no, that takes an act of Congress." McKay waved his hands somewhat wildly – seriously, did the man not realize his tone was quite expressive enough? – but it was surprisingly adorable the way Alexander seemed amused and accustomed to his dad's gesticulations, giggling and waving his hands at McKay's, as if he wanted to play patty cake. At least both kids seemed to have inherited Sheppard's better nature, lucky them. "They spell things out in the law. Operation Manifest Patriotism and specify the combat zones and all that nonsense."
"Obviously, the Stargate Project had to be handled more discreetly as it's classified top secret and the combat area is rather expansive. The language was buried in an appropriations bill and it's very complex to read. Most people wouldn't be able to decipher it, and even if they did, they'd need top-secret clearance for some of the references. However, I assure you it's quite legal." She thought about rattling off the language to demonstrate its convoluted cross-referencing scheme, but was afraid McKay would see legalese as a challenge, so instead sought to deflect his attention. "I believe a similar tax status was contemplated for the scientists by the International Committee, but the countries couldn't come to a mutually acceptable accord on how to handle the issue and it fell through. Perhaps Dr. Weir has more details?" Yes, let her handle him.
"I'll talk to Elizabeth," McKay promised grimly.
"The whole tax thing is one of the reasons I was thinking of setting up college funds for the kids. I've got several years of back pay setting in my bank account earning regular interest. There's no reason not to put it to better use."
"You've thought that far ahead? About...their future?"
Stacy wondered what McKay had really been planning to say and was amazed at the expression on his face, as if he was deeply touched by the Colonel's suggestion. She'd never thought he could look so…woobie-like. And they'd gotten through that tricky revelation without one yell. Having the Colonel around was a definite boon.
"Sure." Sheppard curled his head forward, pressing a little kiss to the side of Kathleen's head, and what quirk of fate had gifted someone like McKay with enjoying that image on a daily basis? Unaware of Stacy's rambling thoughts, the Colonel spoke to his daughter, "Sweetheart and her brother are probably going to win lots of scholarships, aren't you? Then you won't need money for your college, so you can just use it to come visit your old dads."
"Visit us?" McKay asked, and Stacy thought she saw an intense expression of yearning on his face before his eyes flicked to hers and that look smoothed out.
"I'll be ready to retire from the military by the time they head off to get their many degrees. Hey, maybe we can get a place by your sister and her kids. Canada's a nice country and there's a big lab close to her, right? You can keep researching and then the kids could see their aunt and cousins too on school breaks."
"You're organizing things again," McKay protested, like Sheppard's taking over was a common occurrence, but the weakness of his tone said maybe he didn't mind, at least this time. "You don't even know if you'll like my sister."
The Colonel shrugged. "Just ideas. Any money I can save for them now will give them better options. Hey, did you get the information I asked for?"
"Oh, yes." Stacy felt flustered, searching her briefcase for the last folder for them. She should have anticipated the Colonel's request and had it available. Finding the file labeled 'college funds,' she placed it on the table next to the Colonel's feet. "The state plans are problematic since most of them require the child to attend a school in that state – or at least, they try to require it, since there is some argument about whether that's legal under federal laws – and I know you want the children to have full options to pick anywhere in America or Canada – " Realizing that she was babbling, Stacy stopped and made herself take a breath. "I've marked the plans that seem best and included information on other types of long-term savings accounts. They're not all intentionally designed for educational purposes but they may work well for your situation. Just let me know what you decide and I'll set it up."
"Great, thank you. We'll give you a decision before the Daedelus leaves."
"Anyway, with the decision to let Dr. McKay claim the children, your return, Colonel, is fairly simple, basically the same as last year's. If you would review and sign, I'll get it filed and leave a copy in your financial folder at the SGC. And then Dr. McKay, your return also is basically similar to last year's, though I've added the two children as dependents, so that's an additional $14,688 deduction, and the Canadian tax rate dropped from 16 to 15%, so those factors make a huge difference to your bottom line."
Almost in unison, McKay and Sheppard both shifted their respective child to one side and flipped through their paperwork. The action seemed routine, holding the babies comfortably but keeping them out of the way. Both men must have a lot of practice, Sheppard with personnel evaluations and military administrivia, McKay with papers or whatever scientists did. Stacy watched Sheppard's eyes, the way they flicked between the return and every piece of documentation, knowing he was crosschecking everything. His eyes glanced over to McKay and he gave a lazy, "Jeeze, I thought ours were bad."
Surprisingly, McKay grunted, and didn't offer a harangue on the absurdity or unfairness of the tax system. Sheppard reached out and Stacy handed him a pen. He signed the return, sliding the folder back to her, and they sat in silence for a few minutes, Sheppard playing with Kathleen, waving the stuffed toy at her as he bounced her on his legs. Finally, Sheppard asked, "Is that normal for Canadian returns?"
The prohibition against gossiping about an individual's tax situation was strong, but the interaction between the two was interesting to watch, and Stacy was curious to see how much McKay would let her tell Sheppard. "Doctor McKay is a deemed non-resident of Canada under Section 217 – "
"Isn't that the section the doctor worked for on Deep Space Nine?"
"That was Section 31, and he didn't work for it, he worked against it," McKay grumped before Stacy could answer. "Stop trying to act clueless when you're not."
"As a Section 217, Doctor McKay has to fill out the 5013-R, the Income Tax and Benefit Return for Non-Residents and Deemed Residents of Canada, his Schedule A, Statement of World Income, his Schedule B, Allowable Amount of Non-Refundable Tax Credits, and the Schedule 1 and federal worksheet for Federal Tax. His income comes from a variety of sources, his paycheck from the International Committee, of course, various residuals for papers and patents, and his investments. Really quite normal for the scientists who work for the SGC, but it does make for a more complicated return." And more fun, Stacy almost added, but they'd already looked disinterested in the joys of doing returns for people from 32 different countries. Personally, she believed enjoying your work was a desirable quality, even if non-tax people found it bizarre.
"You mean you have to fill them out," Sheppard noted, and smiled. "Makes my form look pathetic."
"Well, yes." Stacy flushed a little at Sheppard's expression, as if he was complimenting and appreciating her at the same time with one smile, understanding how he motivated people while seeming so casual. "I mean, no, not that your return is pathetic, but I only get to do three Canadian returns, all 217s. They're a challenge, but I enjoy it."
"Does Daniel Jackson pay taxes?" McKay asked out of nowhere.
"I can't answer questions about the personal tax situations of other individuals."
McKay rolled his eyes at her, but really, eye rolls were nothing compared to the verbal explosions of prior encounters and almost endearing in a mocking way. "Fine, I'll rephrase. Are scientists who work for the SGC tax exempt?"
"Any income received by a member of a Stargate team as active duty combat pay would be exempt from taxation."
"Yes, I love the passive tense and jargon words, that means Daniel Jackson doesn't pay taxes and that's excruciating wrong, considering he's on Earth and gets to go home to his little apartment after he saves the world."
Stacy watched as the Colonel's long fingers came to squeeze McKay's knee again and his muttering subsided. "Hey, you have patents?"
"Of course I do."
"Cool. You'll have to tell me all about them some time. I didn't know you'd invented things."
"I – yes certainly. If you want."
Sheppard gave his lopsided smile, and McKay smiled back, and Stacy thought she'd never seen such a pleased expression on his face. This whole encounter with the two of them was surprising. The scuttlebutt didn't say much about McKay and Sheppard, which was astounding, because the atmosphere between them was filled with innuendo and unspoken connections. This relationship wasn't totally dependent on an 'accident' with Ancient tech and parental responsibility, or Stacy would eat both volumes of the Internal Revenue Code. Was the scuttlebutt silent because the Atlantis soldiers were totally dense...or completely loyal? "If you're finished reviewing, Dr. McKay?"
"Hmm?" McKay's glance at Stacy was distracted, as if he'd forgotten her presence. "Oh yes, reviewing. Yes, it looks fine." He took the pen and signed his name with a flourish.
"See? I told you that wasn't any reason to fret."
"Yes, Mr. Tax Exempt. Of course you think the American government's decision to help everyone with their paperwork and filing their taxes is all well and good. I, on the other hand, was clobbered with penalties and interest on her first visit."
And yikes, there it was, McKay working himself into a tizzy fit. The man's moods were mercurial. "It's regrettable that the long-term consequences on the personal lives of the members of the Atlantis expedition weren't better handled," Stacy said sympathetically, hoping to head off an explosion.
McKay glared, but not too severely. "We didn't even know if we'd be able to return. We certainly didn't know it would take us a year to restore contact with Earth."
Of course, if he'd just overwithheld to guarantee a refund in the first place, he could have avoided the penalties and interest on late payment, even if he'd still been dinged on late filing, but that observation had earned Stacy a good five minutes of yelling when she'd first made it, and she wouldn't repeat that mistake.
"Look," Sheppard said softly. "They're crashing again." And indeed, both children had quietly, completely fallen asleep, eyes shut and soft mouths open, bodies slumped on their dads, Kathleen's toy dropping to the floor. "They go out like a light. They're so like Rodney."
"Like Dr. McKay?" Stacy asked, hearing the doubt in her voice. Alexander's nose was the only connection she'd seen between the twins and McKay. Otherwise they seemed much more like the Colonel.
Sheppard just nodded his head and McKay – wow, now McKay really, really looked woobie-like, like he loved that the Colonel thought the kids resembled him – tucked Alexander to his chest and stood. "We should put them down for their nap."
Stacy recognized a dismissal when she heard one, and was happy to accept it, slipping the finished folders back into her briefcase. "Thank you."
"No, thank you, Lieutenant," Sheppard offered. "We really do appreciate this. We'll get back to you about the college fund."
Within seconds, Stacy found herself hustled out the door, McKay giving a last grudging, "Thank you," as he shut the door behind her. She stood in the hallway and shook her head, bemused at how her expectations had differed from reality, before pulling out her PDA. Next up, Ronon Dex. Dex? Oh yes, the alien fellow who the Colonel was trying to get awarded American citizenship. Stacy had no idea what expectations or knowledge he had of this process. His SGC file had lacked any discussion of Satedan economics and tax structure.
For a brief moment, Stacy contemplated knocking on the door and asking the Colonel to accompany her. He'd been so very excellent at calming and distracting McKay, and he was bound to be helpful with this other fellow. But...no. Because if Sheppard and McKay weren't engaging in a "nap" of their own while the kids were drowsing, Stacy would devour all six volumes of the federal income tax regulations. And she certainly didn't want to knock on the door now and get any signs confirming that supposition because what she didn't know, she couldn't tell.
Shoving her PDA back in her pocket, Stacey headed off to find Mr. Dex.
The door slid shut behind the Lieutenant and Rodney bounced as he turned to face John, sure that his agitation was evident in his face, voice and body. "Are you attempting to get yourself thrown out of the Air Force?"
John frowned, a little confused by the sudden accusation, and well aware that the appropriate response to Rodney was never to be agitated back. "What do you mean?"
"With the touching! The reassuring pats! And the 'gee, let's retire to Canada and be the gay eccentric uncles for your nephews'!" Alexander shifted sleepily in his arms, and Rodney tried to force himself to calm down, not wanting his son to pick up his stress and wake up.
John shrugged, through he could feel his jaw tightening. "I'm not going to keep pretending, Rodney. We have kids. Our lives are tied together."
Rodney stared helplessly at John, not sure how to respond. John's growing stubbornness about playing 'co-dad' and not lover when the Daedelus crew were roaming Atlantis would almost be endearing if it wasn't so suicidal for his career.
Swinging his legs off the table, John stood, the sleeping Kathleen held in one arm, and stalked toward Rodney. He watched the expression in Rodney's eyes, noted as they flicked downwards, relieved that the frustrated 'you are being such a lunatic' glare was being eclipsed by the 'but your hips are the second wonder of the Pegasus Galaxy' drool. He got so close to Rodney, he had to stop walking or he would have smacked Kathleen into Alexander as the kids slept in their arms. "The twins are both almost asleep. They're ready for their afternoon nap. I think we should take one of our own."
Rodney gave a little growl, not sure if it was from irritation or passion. "You're avoiding the issue again. You're trying to distract me with sex."
Leaning forward slightly, John brushed his lips over Rodney's cheek, leaving soft kisses in their wake. "Would you rather be Daniel Jackson?"
"Hmmm?" Rodney mumbled, nonplussed by the non sequitur and unable to make much sense of John's words when his lips were so distracting.
"Would you rather be Daniel Jackson, tax exempt and on Earth and able to go back to your comfortable apartment after saving the world for the umpteenth time?"
Rodney frowned, still distracted by John's lips but sensing an underlying concern in John's questioning. "Why would I want to be Daniel Jackson? He doesn't have them and he doesn't have you. What the hell is money compared to you three?"
Rodney's tone was crotchety but his words were perfect, and John grinned. He brushed his fingers over Rodney's visible nipple, the one that wasn't hidden by Alexander's body. "Let's put them down and then I'll show you how very much I'm worth."
John's hand felt so good, rubbing his nipple, bringing it to a hard, needy point, and Rodney swallowed. He had to return the sensation, stroking the vulnerable nape of John's neck, appreciating the way the other man gave a little shiver and licked his lips. He contemplated noting that he was a genius, he was well aware of what really mattered in life, and they were all here within his reach, thank you very much, but indeed he was a genius and therefore not stupid enough to discourage John from proving his worth. "It's been a stressful day. Paying taxes is always exhausting."
John slid an arm around Rodney's waist, giving him a kiss on the lips. "So it is. Let's go celebrate having it all done with for a year."
~ the end ~