"Hey! Watch what you're doing!"
John heard the shout, only to find Claire mumbling, "Sorry," and scrambling for the packet she'd dropped onto the guy.
"Everything all right?" John asked, helping her.
"Obviously not. Great, now I'm covered in crackers. You should really watch your kid better," the guy said annoyed.
Claire clutched the box to herself looking very unhappy.
"Look, she said she was sorry. It was an accident. Have you never dropped anything in your life?" John asked him.
"Not in the supermarket on someone else while under the supervision of someone who should look after me," the guy said sourly, brushing some crumbs from his pants.
John only glared at the obvious dig at his parenting. "I'm afraid there's nothing more I can do for you. Claire, you got what you wanted?"
"Then let's go. You wanna buy some ice cream for dinner?" John asked, making her light up.
From behind him, he heard, "Oh sure, reward her for her clumsiness."
Claire's smile vanished, and John turned and growled at the guy. "When your parents watched you, they apparently forgot to teach you basic politeness!"
Without waiting for an answer he pushed Claire towards the ice cream section. He still heard the guy mutter, "God, they really let anyone have children."
John took a deep breath, but went on, calling him an asshole under his breath. Claire tutted at him disapprovingly.
"Sorry, sweety. Let's get that ice cream."
John was at the video store the next day, organizing entertainment for their weekend.
"Can we get Aliens?" Susan asked him, already holding the box.
"Claire can't watch Aliens," John told her.
"So what? I'll have to watch kids movies until I go to college? I am not watching fucking chipmunks," Susan said.
"Susan," John said with warning in his voice. "Language."
"Sorry," she said rolling her eyes. "But my argument stands."
"Okay, so how about we watch Back to the Future again. It's been a while since—"
"John," she whined, making his name at least three syllables long.
"And the two of us can watch Aliens together after Claire went to bed," he added.
She straightened. "Deal! Actually, let me see if I rather wanna watch something else."
She was off before he could say something. He turned back to the DVDs in the science fiction section, only to be faced with the same guy who had scolded Claire—and him—a few days before in the supermarket.
"Wow, this town is even smaller than I thought," the guy commented.
John pointedly ignored him, checking the shelf to see if there might be another movie that would appeal to all of them. He was about to pick up The Time Machine—the 1960 version obviously—when the guy grabbed it even as he reached for it.
"Hey!" John said, turning to him.
"What?" The guy asked. "You wanted that too? Well, then you need to be faster next time."
"You did that on purpose," John accused him.
"Please. As if I would care about some small town Dad with out of control kids," the guy said dismissively.
"Leave my kids out of this," John said darkly.
"Hey, you do with your kids what you want. It's not if I could stop you. I think I saw your daughter in the horror section before. I would have thought splatter might be a more fitting subject for after you hit puberty but what do I know. I guess it's just easier to let them do anything they want."
"I don't—" John stopped himself. "You know what? I'm not even going to answer that. You know nothing about my family. And you know nothing about my daughters."
"Except that they're spoilt brats. It's called observation," the guy shot back.
"Shut the hell up!" John said, taking a step towards the guy.
The guy stood his ground, crossing his arms, DVD still in his hand, and lifting his head up high.
"You don't know anything about what my daughters went through," John said through his teeth. "They're stronger, funnier, and smarter than you could ever hope to be, and at least they won't grow up to be complete jerks with nothing to look forward to in life than making other people miserable just so that they can feel better about themselves."
"Ha!" the guy said. "I might not know what they went through, but I can guarantee that they're not smarter than I am, and I do things in my life that you couldn't even dream about. If my comments are making your miserable, it's only because I have a low tolerance for idiots that don't like to face the truth of their horrible parenting."
"You fucking asshole," John said, hands clenching into fists as he took another step towards the guy.
John turned to Susan, whose gaze moved between him and the guy. The fact that she'd called him "Daddy" was enough to make him get a grip on himself. She only did it when she felt especially vulnerable, and he was quite happy to never have her call him that.
"Everything's all right," he said, smiling at her reassuringly. "I'll just get Back to the Future."
He glared at the guy, who glared back at him, the sides of his crooked mouth turning down.
"I can't believe this. Are you stalking me?"
By now, John actually recognized the voice before he saw the guy. He took a deep breath before turning around. "I was here first," he pointed out, forcing himself to stay calm this time. "And I come here regularly. So if anyone's stalking, it's you."
"Right, because I make it a habit to follow around a poster child for bad parenting. This happens to be the lunch place closest to my lab," the guy said.
John was about to give him a piece of his mind for starting with the parenting thing again, when he processed the second thing the guy'd said. The only labs nearby were at his own company and there'd been one new guy that he'd heard of who rumor had it was an arrogant asshole. "You're McKay?" he asked.
The guy looked surprised for a moment. "You also work at Evetron? As what? Janitor?"
Before John could answer, the woman at the counter cleared her throat. John stepped aside, making room for others to step up to the counter.
"I'm designing the prototype of our newest aircraft," John told him, before walking away and sitting down at a free table.
He could hear McKay mutter, "Oh God," before he ordered his lunch.
To John's surprise, McKay turned to his table after getting his order. "Listen, Kavanaugh," he began.
"Oh no. I am not Kavanaugh," John said emphatically.
"You're not?" McKay asked.
"Definitely not," John said.
McKay took the seat opposite of John without asking. "So you're one of his designers?"
John didn't want to think of himself as Kavanaugh's anything, so he said, "He's my boss if that's what you mean."
"That's what I just said. Are you dense? What am I talking about? You're probably my age and work for an incompetent idiot. Of course, you're just one of the drones."
John opened his mouth, but didn't know how to respond to the sheer rudeness not to mention presumption of this guy. "I didn't exactly choose my boss. The prototype sounded like a great project, so I took the chance when they offered it to me without asking too many questions. And for someone with only five years experience in the industry, I think I'm doing quite well," he added defensively.
"Five years? What were you before that? A hair model?" McKay asked, gaze moving up to John's hair.
"I was in the Air Force," John said, jaw clenched.
"Let me guess. A flyboy. What happened? Did they kick you out for non-regulation hair?" McKay asked.
John's face darkened as he remembered the phone call that would change his life forever.
McKay must have seen something in his eyes. "You lost your wife?" he asked. "I'm sorry. I... It must have been very hard for your daughters to lose their mom."
John gave him a look, but McKay looked genuinely compassionate. "Mom and dad," John corrected him. "My brother and his wife died in a car crash."
"I'm sorry," McKay said again. "I don't have the best relationship with my sister but if I lost her...and had to take care of her daughter." He looked horrified at the idea.
"So you don't really know anything about parenting?" John asked. He had to admit to himself that McKay's accusations had gotten under his skin. Of all the things he'd messed up in his life he didn't want his kids to be one of them.
"Look, I might have overreacted about the crackers," McKay said, making John raise his eyebrows. "Though I still think your older daughter lacks manners and that you let them get away with too much," McKay finished.
"Manners?" John asked incredulously.
"Okay, fine. I don't really care about manners. It just annoys me if kids always get their way because they'll grow up to be adults that think they can charm or whine themselves out of any situation and then someone like me is stuck with them having to discuss why their mediocre design isn't good enough let alone groundbreaking," McKay said.
"Actually, I agree," John said. "But they're not like that. I admit that I spoil them sometimes, but they have to do their homework and other chores and they can't talk themselves out of that. They're good kids. They deserve some leeway. Though rumor has it you're not much for encouraging and nurturing the people under your supervision."
"Which rumors?" McKay asked.
"That you threatened to fire everyone on your team the first day," John said.
"Well, that was obviously hyperbole. Except for Lawrence. That guy needs to be reintroduced to the laws of physics. Though HR won't allow me to shove him out a window. And before you act all shocked, that's hyperbole too. If I wanted to kill people I'd have taken up the military's offer to work for them," McKay said impatiently.
John found himself smiling at McKay. "So what's your beef with Kavanaugh? I mean in particular," he added because nobody really liked his boss.
"'In particular', his proposals are complete bullshit," McKay said.
John laughed. "Try to work around it and look at the design specs directly," he suggested, biting into his sandwich. "It's what we do."
"So you're not even going to try to defend him?" McKay asked.
"Why would I? You're right," John said.
"Then there might be hope for you yet," McKay said magnanimously. "And if you really only started designing aircraft five years ago, I guess you can't be too bad if Evetron trusts you as part of their prototype design team."
"McKay. You're making me blush," John said deadpan.
"Don't flatter yourself. It's just good to know someone on the design team who's not as insultingly stupid as Kavanaugh. I've only exchanged emails with him so far but it was enough to know there'll be no talking to the man. I know I won't be able to avoid it forever, but I want to be prepared for it at least. So what's your extension at Evetron?"
"Uh, 260," John said. McKay stored it in his phone. When he continued eating without returning the favor, John asked, "Don't you want to give me yours?"
"Why would you want to call me?" McKay asked.
"Let off some steam about how aggravating Kavanaugh is?" John asked.
"Fair enough," McKay said.
McKay called the next day.
"Sheppard," John answered the phone.
"Is that your name? You're the hair guy with two nieces, right?" McKay asked.
"Yes, Sheppard's my name and I have two daughters. What do you want, McKay?" John asked.
"Can you tell me why Kavanaugh wants the wing section so narrow?" McKay asked.
John sighed. "I tried to talk him out of that."
"So you're seeing what I'm seeing. I know that Evetron used to do it this way, but we're trying to move into the future for this prototype. Is he aware of that?" McKay asked.
"I tried to tell him we could keep our options open for a wider array of propulsion systems with an extended section but—"
"But he doesn't give a damn and I'm screwed," McKay finished for him. "Are you the one working on the wing section?"
"Yes, among other things," John said.
"Can't you just extend it? Keep a narrow version on hand for when he drops by, but give me some room to work with in the mean time," McKay said.
"McKay...I can't do that," John said.
"Yes, you can. I've checked your designs. Apart from the stupidity of keeping it so narrow, you did a solid job. And that wasn't your fault," McKay said.
"Well, thanks, but I still can't do that. Evetron took a huge chance when they hired me and again now when they put me on this project. I can't afford to have in my resume 'fired for not being able to follow simple guidelines'. I can try to do a bit on the side, give you a rough idea of what I had in mind."
"Great! When can you have it?" McKay asked.
"Not before the end of the week. And you owe me for this," John said.
"Fine, fine. I'll buy you lunch," McKay said.
"It'll be more than a sandwich, though," John said.
"Whatever you want, Sheppard," McKay said.
"This is exactly where we should be going," McKay told John when he showed him his design over lunch. "This works perfectly with what I had in mind for the engine."
"Kavanaugh will never go for it," John said.
"Okay. Then I'll talk to the boss. They've hired me to perform miracles, and I can't do that with a chain like Kavanaugh around my neck."
"They're not going to fire him," John said.
"Why not? They fired the guy who was here before me," McKay pointed out.
"Exactly. They won't want to replace both heads of design on their biggest project. They would have gotten rid of Kavanaugh by now if they'd considered it," John said.
"Isn't there anyone who can take his place? What about your team? Is there anyone whom you could see as new team leader?" McKay asked.
"Not really," John said. "Stephens might be okay. She's a great designer, but I'm not sure about being a leader."
"Well, I need you to be sure. What about you? What was your rank at the Air Force when you left?" McKay asked.
"Major," John said.
"That's not too bad. You were what? Thirty-five?"
"Thirty-six," John said.
"You wouldn't have made it past Lieutenant if you were a completely incompetent leader. And your designs are as good as Stephens'," McKay said.
"They're not going to make me head of our team," John said.
"Why the hell not?" McKay asked.
"I have only five years of experience. And the first year I spent learning the ropes," John said.
"Well, I have twenty-five years of experience, more than enough for both of us," McKay said.
John's eyes narrowed. "How old are you?"
"I'm forty," McKay said. "And yes, I started working on complex designs at fifteen. I built a nuclear bomb in 8th grade."
John didn't know what to say to that. After a moment, he went back to the topic at hand. "They're not going to give me the job."
"They will if I ask them," McKay said. "And threaten to walk if they don't do it."
"McKay, you can't do that," John said.
"Please. I have many better offers. I only took this one because the project sounded interesting, but with Kavanaugh ruining the basics, I won't be able to do what they're trying to pay me for. It's as simple as that."
"Listen, I can't afford to lose this job," John said.
"And you won't. I will tell them that this was my idea alone. And if they still fire you for no reason, I'll find you a new job."
John just looked at him in silence.
"Trust me," McKay said.
"I do," John answered, finding that it was true. "But..."
"I'm not going to lie to you. My family comes first. I promised myself when I took them in that I'd always be home for dinner. If you're expecting me to work eighty-hour-weeks, I'll have to decline. I can do some work from home after they've gone to bed, but I'm not going to abandon them to a babysitter full-time," John said. The time after the accident hadn't been easy for any of them. But they were finally at a point where they were a happy family. He wasn't going to risk that.
"Fair enough. Then we'll have to go over your team's designs first," McKay said.
"You still want to go ahead with your idea?" John asked.
"I can't work the way it is. I don't see anyone talking sense into Kavanaugh if they haven't by now. I accept your priorities, but they mean that I'll need to be certain that you are ready to do the job of team leader. You said you could work a bit after your daughters went to bed. How about I drop by tonight and we discuss it?"
John looked at him for a long moment. "Okay."
Susan's eyes narrowed when she opened the door to find McKay. "How the hell did you find us?" Before McKay could say a word, she slammed the door in his face. She ran to John. "The guy from the video store is standing outside. You should call the police."
"Uhm, right. He's the colleague I mentioned. Weren't you going to bed?" John asked her, as he walked to open for McKay.
But Susan followed him. "You nearly beat him up at the store!"
"No, I didn't," John said at the same time as McKay said, "No, he didn't."
Susan crossed her arms and glared at McKay, looking rather intimidating for a pre-teen-verging-on-teen in pajamas.
"Look, your uncle—father—and I just had a misunderstanding," McKay said, coming in.
Susan dropped her arms and turned to John, looking betrayed. "You told him?"
"Susan..." John started.
"He was defending you," McKay stepped in. "And I'm sorry for being a bit..."
Susan rolled her eyes when he didn't seem to find the right words. "I'm going to bed," she said sourly. "But if you try something with my dad, I'm calling the police," she added.
"Goodnight, sweety," John said a bit helplessly.
"Night," Susan said, giving him another disappointed look and a sigh.
"You're not allowed to tell anyone she's actually your niece?" McKay asked.
"She is my daughter," John said sharply. "And that's exactly why we usually don't tell anyone."
"I didn't mean that you don't— It's obvious that you're taking your parental duties very seriously. I daresay there are real fathers that..." McKay trailed off at John's glare. "You are her real father, right? Why don't we go over the designs?" he said.
"That's a good idea," John said, showing him the way to the living room.
"You!" Kavanaugh said, rushing towards John in the cafeteria. "You know what you did? You ruined this project! You honestly think you could handle this? You were lucky to get in at all. This is mutiny. I don't know what you did to get McKay on your side," he said, giving John a disgusted once over, "but he's going to regret it. And so is Evetron!"
Before John could answer, their security guards came rushing in and accompanied Kavanaugh out.
McKay turned to John. "That was Kavanaugh?"
John only nodded.
"Did he just insinuate that you...?" McKay asked.
John gave him a look, raising an eyebrow. Then his face changed as he realized the higher-ups had apparently agreed with McKay's suggestion.
"Yes, I just got you promoted," McKay said smugly. "You can thank me later. There's work to do. Chop chop."
"It's getting late. I really need to go," John said, starting to pack his things.
"We're not close to being done," McKay said.
"And I'll already have to rush for dinner. I told you my rules," John reminded him.
"Right, but we can continue this later tonight?" McKay asked.
"Yes, but I really need to hurry now," John said, throwing documents and his laptop into his case.
"Just get some fast food," McKay suggested.
"That's only for planned occasions or real emergencies. And no, being late is not an emergency," John said, getting up.
"All right, super dad. I guess I should find something to eat too before we continue this," McKay said, also getting up.
"Do you wanna join us?" John asked.
McKay looked at him for a moment. "If it's not against one of the rules," he said.
"We don't have rules against guests," John said as they made their way to their cars. "As long as they behave themselves," he added.
McKay gave him a look. "How nice do I have to be?"
"You don't need to be 'nice'. Just don't insult my kids or I'll have to throw you out and that'll be inconvenient when we continue the review," John said.
"Fine," McKay grumbled.
"I mean it," John said. "Susan can take care of herself for the most part, but Claire is more sensitive. Not that she's fragile or anything, just...try to behave like a normal human being."
"Now you sound like my sister," McKay said.
"Daddy, there's some guy following us," Claire said, turning in her seat.
"Yes, sweety, I know. He's a colleague from work, and I invited him to dinner," John said. "You've actually met him," John added after a moment. "He was the rude guy in the supermarket last week."
Claire made a face. "Why do you invite him to dinner?"
"We need to go over a few things later tonight and he was hungry," John said.
"Can't he buy his own food?" Claire asked.
"Yes, but he actually did something very nice for me at work today, and since I'm making dinner anyway..."
"What did he do?" Claire asked.
"I'm going to tell you and Susan when we're at home," John said.
"You could tell me now and Susan later," Claire suggested.
"We're almost there. No need to be impatient," John said, smiling at her.
They parked their cars and Claire climbed out, staying behind John. "Claire this is, uhm..."
"Dr. Rodney McKay," McKay said stiffly.
Claire raised an eyebrow. Then she straightened and said, "Claire Emmanuelle Sheppard," just as formally.
"I'm pleased to meet you, Ma'am," McKay said, bowing slightly.
Claire giggled and dropped a curtsey. "What kind of doctor are you? The plane-making kind?"
"Yes, the 'plane-making' kind," McKay said, rolling his eyes. "Though I can make much more than planes. But right now it's what your dad and I are trying to accomplish."
They made their way inside. "Susan, we're here," John shouted.
"Where have you been? I'm hungry," she said, walking around the corner and stopping when she saw McKay. "It's you again."
"Likewise," McKay said.
Susan grumbled. "Why is he here?" she asked John.
"What's the surprise?" Claire interrupted, tugging on his sleeve.
"Surprise?" Susan piped up.
"I got a promotion," John announced.
Susan grinned. "Awesome! Will you raise my allowance?"
"No," John said.
Claire didn't look as happy. "Does this mean you'll have to work more?" she asked, looking at McKay before turning back to John.
"No, it doesn't," John said picking her up and kissing her on the cheek. "Now we have to go make a quick dinner. Wanna help?"
"You could at least take us out for the occasion," Susan suggested.
"Let's see how it goes at first," John said, looking at McKay. "Feel free to drop your stuff anywhere." He carried Claire into the kitchen.
Susan deflated. "We could buy a new TV at least or something," she said, following him.
"There's nothing wrong with ours. Let's wait a bit before we make sweeping lifestyle changes. I'm not the CEO or anything. And by the way, we have Rodney to thank for the promotion," John said, nodding towards McKay, who had followed them into the kitchen.
"Hmm," Susan said. "Maybe you're not so bad after all," she told him.
McKay gave her a look. "I'd answer but your father has forbidden me to insult you."
John laughed and Susan grinned.
After dinner, Rodney was eager to continue working, but John said it was family time. They played Taboo and Susan displayed an astonishing vocabulary both in quantity and profanity.
Claire looked at her disapprovingly while John just gave her pointed looks.
Afterward John went over Claire's homework with her while Susan finished hers and Rodney started looking at the designs.
When she was done with her homework and John had taken a cursory glance, Susan whined that she wanted to stay up longer.
"You stayed up late enough. It's not my fault you didn't finish your homework after school," John told her.
She pouted; he stared.
"Fine!" she said, throwing her hands up in defeat and stalking away.
"I'll have to revise my opinion of your parenting," Rodney said when she was gone. "You're not letting them get away with everything. Though Susan is a real potty mouth for her age."
"I know," John said, sighing. "It's part of her armor I think. As long as she can act appropriate in public, I let it go."
"Well, there are worse vices to have. Do you need to tuck her in or something? Or can we finally get to work?" Rodney asked.
John smiled. "Yes, we can 'finally' get to work."
They went over the designs until John started yawning.
"Don't tell me you are tired," Rodney said.
"I have two kids to get ready for school tomorrow before work," John said.
Rodney sighed, but didn't say anything.
"Yes, I know. They're very inconvenient for you," John said, one corner of his mouth tugging up.
"Hey, those were your words. And it's not like you planned to be a single parent or anything," Rodney said.
John's smile faded. "No. Though I'm happy to have them. I wish it were under different circumstances, but I always wanted kids and after my divorce..." He stopped himself.
"You were married? To a woman?" Rodney asked.
John raised an eyebrow at that. "Yes, to a woman."
"So Kavanaugh was just..." Rodney said, trailing off.
John's eyes narrowed. "Are you coming on to me?" Dinner with Rodney had been surprisingly enjoyable for all of them, and after their initial fights it was fun to work with Rodney, but what he implied now went a whole lot further.
Rodney's eyes shifted. "No. I'm more...gathering information to make an informed decision at a later point."
"About coming on to me?" John asked.
"You don't strike me as homophobic. If you are, tell me now, so that I can adjust my impression of your intellect," Rodney said.
"I'm not," John said.
"So?" Rodney asked.
John didn't know what to say. Up until recently it had felt as if they were still settling in into their new life. Frankly, the thought of having a relationship hadn't crossed John's mind as anything other than an abstract far away thing of the future.
"You could just say that you're bi but I'm not your type. No need to let me down easily or to pretend to be straight just to reject me," Rodney said.
"I'm gay," John said, feeling strange because he didn't think he'd actually said it out loud to anyone.
Rodney waited for a moment, then said, "And I'll take your lack of further qualification as a sign that you're open to my offer should it come."
"Listen—" John began, only to be interrupted by Rodney.
"Your kids come first; work is more important. I'm becoming well acquainted with your rules, don't worry."
"And we hardly know each other," John said. "I don't think a casual relationship is going to work for me, especially with someone I work with, so..."
"Right. You're a guy with children. Forget it. It just occurred to me that your annoying behavior when we first met overshadowed how hot you are and considering what Kavanaugh said, I thought I'd ask," Rodney said.
"You think I'm hot?" John asked.
"I think I'll leave before I further incriminate myself," Rodney said, getting up.
John grinned. There were sometimes women who looked indulgently at him, especially when he was with Claire, but he couldn't remember the last time a guy had told him he was hot.
"Don't let it get to to your head," Rodney said, annoyed. "See you tomorrow."
"Night, Rodney. Don't let the bed bugs bite you," John added.
"It's probably disturbing that turns me on," Rodney said, shaking his head.
Over the next weeks, Rodney often dropped by either late in the evening to work with John or for dinner, hanging out with kids afterward.
Surprisingly the kids really took to Rodney—and Rodney to them. For some reason Susan liked Rodney's abrasive way of explaining something more than John's attempts and even Claire was amused by Rodney more than hurt.
Rodney didn't mention dating or anything of that kind again. John wasn't entirely sure if he'd changed his mind. They still flirted sometimes, but every now and then Rodney would voice his frustration over the constraints that Susan and Claire put on John's life, and John wondered if maybe he wasn't ready to sign up for a relationship with a father of two.
John himself wasn't sure if he thought that Rodney was ready for that. He kept an eye on how Rodney treated the kids, especially Claire, because while Rodney wasn't mean, he could be extremely careless when it came to the feelings of others.
This was put to the test when Rodney helped Claire with one of her projects for the science fair. John had cautioned that they shouldn't be over-ambitious, but Claire had been enthusiastic and begged him to allow her and Rodney to try something big.
Things started out great, even though Susan was a bit pissed off at the shift of attention. But over time John noticed that Rodney got more and more involved and invested and Claire intimidated. He tried to talk to Rodney and asked Claire if she wanted to go for something simpler instead, but she declined.
Eventually though it ended it tears and Claire hiding in her room, refusing to come out—ever again.
John cursed himself more than Rodney, who had no idea what he'd done.
"She's in elementary school, idiot!" Susan chided him.
"We're doing fine," Rodney said, glaring at her.
"No, you're doing fine. This project has nothing to do with her at this point," Susan told him.
John went to console Claire. "Shh, sweety. It's okay," he said, taking her into his arms.
She cried into his shirt, mumbling something between sobs.
"You don't have to worry. We'll find something simple to do for the fair," he said, stroking her hair. "How about a potato powered lamp?"
"He'll hate me," Claire said between sniffs.
"Who?" John asked.
"Rodney," Claire said.
"He won't hate you," John said emphatically. This was all Rodney's fault. And his for allowing it to come so far. "We should have known that this project wasn't right for you."
"I'm not dumb!" she said.
"No, of course not. You're very smart, but Rodney's a doctor and sometimes he forgets that other people are not."
"I don't want to disappoint him," Claire said.
John squeezed her. He was both touched that Rodney had managed to worm himself into all their hearts like this and angry that it gave him the power to hurt them like this. "You're not disappointing him."
Claire took a deep breath and looked at him doubtfully.
"I promise," he said.
To his credit, Rodney looked guilty when John joined him in the living room.
"I might have underestimated the scope of the project a bit," he told John.
"We both have," John said. He was Claire's father and it had been up to him to put a stop to it when he realized where it was going.
"I think we can simplify the design by—"
"Rodney," John said, stopping him. "The fair is at the end of the week. She's not going to be able to work through the night on it on a drip of coffee. It's over."
Rodney dropped his gaze and swallowed. "I only wanted to help," he said.
"I know," John said. "And I appreciate it. We all do. I'd like you to go to Claire and tell her that you don't hate her."
"Of course I don't hate her!" Rodney said.
"I know that. But she's terribly afraid that she disappointed you. I told her she didn't," John said.
"McKay!" John said.
"Well, no, not really. She was able to help and follow to an amazing degree, I suppose," Rodney said.
John glared at him.
"Okay, so I completely screwed this up. What do you want me to say?" Rodney asked.
"Can you talk to her and not make it worse?" John asked.
"I'll try," Rodney said.
John sighed and they went to talk to Claire.
"I'm sorry," Rodney said. "I kind of lost sight of what we were trying to do. I...I didn't want to make you feel bad about this. I wanted you to love it, because I love it and I, uh, like you, so I thought it would be neat if we could do this together."
"I'm sorry too," Claire said.
"You don't need to be sorry, kiddo. I'm formally trained to build things that are appropriate for their purpose and this really wasn't. There was no way you could have known that, but I should have. Thanks for indulging me for so long without throwing things at me," Rodney said.
Claire smiled. "You could help me make a potato powered lamp."
Rodney's face fell. "How much help do you need with sticking—" he stopped at John's sharp glare. "Sure, I'd love to, if you let me."
"Of course," she said, hugging him.
Rodney hesitated, before leaning down and enfolding her in his arms. "Friends?" he asked.
"Friends," she said back.
John had to admit that Rodney was a real trooper, showing unknown levels of patience as Claire built her potato powered lamp.
"This is stupid," Susan commented to John. "He's going to start twitching any moment."
John couldn't help laughing. "It's good for him to learn a little patience."
Susan looked at John. "Do you want to marry him?"
John coughed. "What? Where the hell did that come from?"
"John. Language," she mocked.
He gave her a look. "Seriously. We're not dating. How do you even..."
"Know that you're gay? Grandpa asked if you had a boyfriend the last time we visited him," Susan said.
John's jaw clenched. His 'inclination' was one of the things his father had thrown in his face as reasons why he wasn't fit to raise his brother's children.
"Are you not?" Susan asked.
"No, I...I am. But Rodney and I...we're not dating. Though..." he trailed off. "You wouldn't mind?" he asked.
"Well, you certainly could do better, but you know, for being him Rodney is okay," Susan said, the casualness of her words sounding a bit forced.
John could only smile. Susan and Rodney liked to fight and insult each other, but since Susan always asked after him when Rodney hadn't come around for a day or two, John knew that she'd grown as fond of him as they all had.
Susan rolled her eyes. "I didn't say I like him or anything."
After the disaster of the science fair project and the talk with Susan, John re-considered where he wanted his relationship with Rodney to go.
On the one hand, the science project had shown that sometimes Rodney's carelessness about the feelings of others would hurt them. John didn't mind when Rodney did it to him. He loved Rodney's straight-forward honesty and was willing to live with a few bumps on the road.
However, he was aware that he couldn't assume his kids would or should do the same. He wasn't really worried about Susan, but Claire's reaction had shown all too clear that she was the least prepared to handle Rodney's social ineptness.
On the other hand, they'd been able to resolve it in a manner that didn't make everyone happy, but that allowed them to forgive and forget and be friends again. Rodney had shown remarkable restraint when "helping" Claire with the potato lamp.
For all of Rodney's carelessness, he did care about others occasionally, and for some reason that included John's daughters.
And they cared about him too.
His kids weren't a reason for John not to pursue a relationship with Rodney, so the question was did he want to?
Rodney was smart, funny, and adorably awkward when he tried to flirt with John and didn't hit the self-confident mark. John liked to work with him, but just spending time with Rodney and the kids was something he'd grown to love over the last months.
They'd made Rodney a part of their family in many ways, and considering that, John could understand how Susan came up with the idea to make it official.
And John would be lying if he said he hadn't thought about Rodney in that way. His masturbation fantasies which had been pretty generic before, had started to feature Rodney for a while now, and Rodney was so bad at hiding his feelings that John was pretty certain Rodney still found him hot.
Of course, he'd never actually asked John out on a date, but John hoped that maybe Rodney was waiting for a sign from John that he was ready to give this a chance.
The easiest way to find out would be to give him that sign and see what happened.
"Susan asked me if I wanted to marry you," John said one evening the next week.
Rodney spluttered, spitting out the popcorn he'd just stuffed into his mouth. "We haven't even kissed! I would have thought that she of all people would believe in sex before marriage."
"Hey! Just because she likes to swear like a sailor doesn't mean that she'll be a...you know. God, I hope so," John said.
"I feel insulted on Susan's behalf and that is wrong on so many levels," Rodney said.
John smiled weakly. "Okay. I didn't want to talk about Susan anyway."
"What did you want to talk about?" Rodney asked.
"Us?" John said, wondering if that was what he was doing. Talking about relationships—voluntarily?
Rodney gave him a long look. "Are you trying to come on to me?"
"Just gathering information," John said, moving a bit closer to Rodney on the couch.
"Uhuh," Rodney said. "Anything in particular you're asking?" He gave John a once over.
John licked his lips. "When we first met, you told me that you thought I was hot," he said.
"I seem to recall something like that," Rodney said.
John moved a little closer. "What if I told you I think you're hot too."
"John," Rodney said.
John's face fell and he straightened. "I...I'm sorry. You never— I should have known that you—"
"No," Rodney interrupted him. "It's just...I'm not good with kids. I mean you know what happened with Claire and I...can't exactly promise it will never happen again."
"They love you," John said. Based on his observations over the last months, there was no doubt in his mind.
"Please. Susan can barely tolerate me, and Claire's so sweet she loves anyone," Rodney said self-deprecatingly.
"Susan adores you. She'd rather die than admit it, but she told me herself that she wouldn't mind if we became a couple," John said.
Rodney frowned. "Look, I don't want to screw up your family."
"Why would you say that?" John said.
"I'm terrible at being part of a family. My parents fought all the time over me and my sister hardly talks to me. I'm...glad that you allow me to come here and feel..." Rodney trailed off, swallowing.
"Loved?" John guessed.
"I'm not very good at relationships and the longer I know you—you and the kids—I don't...I don't want to mess things up with you, John."
John reached out and took Rodney's hands in his. "You remember when you asked me to trust you?"
"I was right. You're doing a perfectly adequate job," Rodney said.
John snorted. "Thanks for the compliment. You were right. And now I'm asking you to trust me. I'm not good at relationships either. But I'm a good father and you being part of this family has only made things better."
Rodney looked at him, still a little afraid. "You won't suddenly start leaving me alone with the kids will you?"
"Not any more than before," John said, smiling. "And I'm sure you could handle it." He squeezed Rodney's hand in encouragements.
Rodney took a deep breath. "I have to admit, I really want to fuck you," he said in a stage whisper.
John laughed quietly. "The kids will be with their grandparents next week."
Rodney's face fell. "Tell me you're kidding," he said, straightening and pulling his hand from under John's.
John straightened as well. "No. They'll fly to Charlie's parents on Monday."
"That's not what I meant. Why wait for them to be with their grandparents?" Rodney asked.
"They're straight down the hall," John said, horrified by the idea of Claire or Susan hearing or worse catching them.
"And they will be for the foreseeable future," Rodney said. "You want our sex life to be confined to once or twice a year until they're out of the house?"
"They're going on sleepovers every now and then," John said feebly. He had to admit he hadn't properly thought through that part.
"I don't want to be able to be with you 'every now and then,'" Rodney said.
John leaned back against the couch, letting his shoulders slump.
"Doesn't your door have a lock? It's a great new invention that keeps kids out of their parent's room when they want to have sex," Rodney said.
"I..." John suspected that Rodney was right, but he still felt really awkward about the idea of Claire going to the bathroom at night and hearing them. Especially, since he imagined that Rodney would be vocal during sex.
"I know for a fact that people don't stop having sex when they become parents. Otherwise everyone would be an only child," Rodney pointed out.
"Unless they spend a lot of time with their grandparents," John quipped.
Rodney gave him a look. "Maybe it's better this way," he said sadly.
"No," John said. He didn't want to believe that.
"Then better start investing in soundproof walls," Rodney said. "I should go." He smiled at John.
"Oh, fuck it," John said and pulled him into a kiss.
Rodney made a noise of surprise, then returned the kiss, wrapping his arms around John.
It felt so good. In this moment, John couldn't remember when he'd last kissed someone. It was a revelation to feel the tingling in his body when Rodney opened his mouth to deepen the kiss.
John leaned into it, getting lost in the kiss and feeling Rodney.
"We should," Rodney said between kisses, "take this elsewhere."
John pulled away far enough to see Rodney's parted, kiss-swollen lips. He realized that his hands had somehow slipped under his shirt. "Just try to be quiet please. I don't want them to worry, and I need to explain to them—"
"I'm pretty sure Susan will get the idea," Rodney said.
"Please," John said. "I'll tell them tomorrow. I just don't want them to find out this way."
"We could wait until tomorrow?" Rodney suggested.
John's eyes dipped to Rodney's lips. "Please," he said again.
"I'll try," Rodney said, kissing him again.
John had to bite his lip to prevent himself from shouting out.
Rodney was touching him everywhere. He had his hands on his nipples, kissed his neck, stroked his side, licked his earlobe, pressed his hard cock against John's, making him moan even as he tried to remain quiet.
"Shh," Rodney said, grinning at him. "I'm going to make you shout when they're at their grandparents' place, though."
John groaned inwardly. Rodney clasped his hands with John's and pressed them into the pillow next to John's head.
"I'm not sure I'm going to last," John admitted.
"There's always next time," Rodney said, rubbing himself against John.
John's hips jerked up. "Rodney, please." He parted his legs.
"Do you have lube? I have a condom, but I didn't really expect this," Rodney said.
"I do, but..." John flushed, unable to tell Rodney that he didn't think he'd last more than a second when Rodney touched his dick.
"Think you'll last long enough for me to suck you?" Rodney asked with a knowing look.
"Jesus," John said, the idea of Rodney's mouth on his dick making it twitch.
Rodney moved down his body, removing the wonderful friction, but promising something even better. "You're clean, right? And tested?" Rodney asked.
"Yes and yes," John said.
Rodney gave him a heated look. "You have no idea how much I wanted to do this," he said, before leaning down and taking the head of John's cock in his mouth.
John bit his lips again, dampening the groan that threatened to escape from his mouth. He had to force himself to keep his hips still when Rodney sucked him in and started to tease him with his tongue.
"Fuck," John said, feeling his orgasm building.
Rodney took him in hand and sucked him further into his mouth, starting to jack him off at the same time.
"Oh God," John said quietly. Then he couldn't hold back anymore. "Rodney! I'm going to—" He came and came and came.
John woke the next day, gaze falling on Rodney's drooling face.
He smiled fondly as he remembered the night before. He'd wanted to reciprocate, but Rodney hadn't been able to wait and rubbed himself against John until he came.
John couldn't wait until he got a taste of him. He was tempted to wake Rodney, but he knew that Rodney wasn't a morning person and he needed the time before work to get the kids ready.
John was glad that his usual morning run made him wake up pretty early, so he had time to shower and prepare breakfast for the four of them, while trying to come up with an appropriate way to tell his kids that Rodney was now his boyfriend.
He looked in on Rodney while Claire was in the bathroom. Rodney was still fast asleep. Though that changed when Susan woke up.
"John?" she shouted.
Rodney shot up in bed and looked around. When he saw John, he smiled. John smiled back fondly then placed his finger on his mouth in a shh gesture.
He left the bedroom and closed the door behind him.
"Rodney forgot his stuff," Susan said, pointing at the hall. Then she narrowed her eyes. "Is something going on?"
"Actually," John said. "There's something I have to tell you. You and Claire."
Her eyebrows shot up. "Is it about Rodney?"
Claire came out of the bathroom. She walked toward the kitchen but then stopped, looking at her sister and father. "Breakfast?" she asked.
"Uhm, sweety, there's something I have to tell you," John said.
Claire's eyes widened in worry.
"Nothing bad," he assured her. "I think," he added.
"Ha!" Susan said.
"What?" Claire asked.
"He totally got laid last night," Susan said.
"What?" Claire asked, frowning.
"Susan," John chided her.
"You can come out, Rodney. We know you're in there," Susan shouted.
"Rodney is still here?" Claire asked.
"Yes, sweety, he is. He stayed last night. We, uhm...I really like him and I like to spend time with him so I invited him to stay," John stumbled out.
"Like a sleepover?" Claire asked.
Susan snorted, but thankfully didn't say anything.
"Well, not exactly. Because adults sometimes do different things than kids. We talked about that. You remember?" he said.
Claire nodded. "So can we have breakfast now?"
"Yes," John said. "No wait. I'm not just... You know what boyfriends and girlfriends are, right?"
"Of course," Claire said.
"Rodney is my boyfriend now," John said, holding his breath.
Claire looked at him, then at the still closed bedroom door. "Oh," she said. "Does that mean Rodney is moving in with us?"
John exhaled. "No, sweety. At least not immediately," he said, stroking her hair. "Though he might spend even more time here. You wouldn't mind would you?"
"Nope," she said. "Can we have breakfast now?"
"Yes. We can have breakfast now," John said, watching her run into the kitchen. He turned to Susan, who held a new-found fascination with the bedroom door. "Don't you need to get ready for school?" he asked her.
"Is he going to hide in there until we leave?" Susan asked.
"No, until your father says it's okay for me to come out," Rodney's voice came through the door.
John made a face, turned, and opened the door.
"Hey, Rodney," Susan said cheerfully.
"Wow, you're chipper this morning," Rodney said. "Actually, maybe you're like that every morning," he added, sounding slightly horrified. He turned to John. "I would appreciate it if you had really strong coffee ready for me when I'm out of the shower."
"Daddy! Where's the granola?" Claire shouted from the kitchen.
When John had lunch that day with Rodney, he couldn't help smiling.
Breakfast had been as natural as their frequent dinners with Rodney, at least after Rodney had had his first cup of coffee.
"It went well this morning, didn't it?" Rodney asked.
"Yeah," John said.
"So when did you say were they going to visit their grandparents?" Rodney asked.
John snorted. "Their first ten days of vacation," he said. "They fly on Monday."
"I've thought about this some more. I guess we could go over to my place if you feel really uncomfortable about having sex at your place," Rodney said.
"I've never even been at your place," John said. Rodney had always come to them.
"With good reason. I haven't even finished unpacking. But if it's really an issue for you we could work something out," Rodney said.
"I wouldn't want to leave them alone over night, and just going to your place to have sex is..." John trailed off.
"Only one step up from taking a motel room?" Rodney guessed.
John cringed but nodded. "Maybe we could look into soundproofing the walls. While the kids are away," he said.
Rodney leaned forward and stroked John's calf with his foot. "I'm going to make you shout," he said in a deep voice full of promise.
John shuddered and shifted in his seat.
Rodney did make him shout, and they did have the walls soundproofed.
There was a slightly awkward moment on the phone, when Charlie's mother asked John, "So Susan tells us you have a boyfriend now?"
He only said, "Yes," and it was the end of it, but that night John wrote a letter to his father, letting him know that they were all doing well and that he'd met a man whom the kids—and John—loved.
He hadn't explicitly said it to Rodney but he didn't think it was necessary.
By the time the kids returned, Rodney had practically moved in with them. He only went home to get new clothes and as most of them ended up in John's house, even that wasn't a necessity anymore.
Back in school, Susan joined the Gay Straight Alliance and promptly got into a brawl with a 'homophobic asshole'. John tried to convince her that physical violence was not the answer.
"Would electrifying his locker count as physical violence?" Rodney asked.
When they started taking the same car to work, gossip started until Rodney had enough and sent out a memo reminding them that there was no Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy at Evetron and to just open their mouths if they wanted to know something.
Rodney's underlings didn't dare to ask. John for his part never made a secret out of how much time Rodney spent with his family, though he didn't explicitly mention the changed state of their relationship. He didn't feel close enough to his colleagues to mention it without reason.
It was a month later that Claire woke up with a fever. They were in a critical phase for their project and Rodney urged John to go to work.
John hadn't even considered before that day, whether Evetron offered Rodney the chance to stay at home and take care of his partner's kids. They did.
John didn't hide why Rodney didn't come to work that day, and it quickly made the rounds.
When Claire was better, John mentioned to Rodney that there really wasn't any point in keeping his own apartment when he was never there.
They moved Rodney's boxes into storage and their home and while John knew that practically things didn't change for them, he felt a tingle in his whole body the first time Rodney called it "our place".
Rodney's sister visited them a month later with her family. She and Rodney weren't unlike Susan and Rodney, though it seemed to John that Rodney and Jeannie had much more ammunition to hurt each other and used it either accidentally or intentionally.
John still felt that the visit had been good for Rodney and that it had managed to close a few rifts, especially since Rodney's attitude towards family and children had changed in the wake of getting both.
After they finished their project successfully, they all took a vacation and flew to visit John's father.
His father shook Rodney's hand stiffly when John introduced them and obviously felt awkward about their relationship. But over the course of the vacation and seeing how Susan and Claire acted around them, Patrick became more relaxed until he pulled John aside and told him that he was happy for him. When he added that he was proud of John and his family, John realized what he'd really accomplished in the last years.
That night as he lay next to Rodney in bed, he pulled him close and whispered, "I love you."
Rodney took in a quick breath, then exhaled. "I know," he said.
John shoved him playfully.
"I love you too," Rodney said, turning to him.
"I want to be with you for the rest of my life," John admitted.
"Is that a proposal?" Rodney asked.
"Uhm," John said. He hadn't meant it as one, but it occurred to him that he could marry Rodney back in Massachusetts.
"Yes, I will," Rodney answered without waiting for the question.
They both leaned forward and kissed.