It's officially a miracle, John decides. They've been at the museum nearly all day and no real disasters (the realist in him is forced to add yet). Sure, Emma had thrown up on the bus over (but then she always did, poor kid), and Paul Stevens had thrown a sandwich at lunch; John was counting the last as a plus, however, because it meant that Mrs. Stevens would really unleash holy hell at the upcoming parent-teacher conference, the kind of look that made even John sit up straighter.
Still, Room 12 is all mostly engaged and halfway respectable looking, and John even has time to go to the bathroom, thank God for parent chaperones, though as he weaves his way back past the lines snaking into the restrooms, he wonders if he's pressed his luck.
John is still working his way smilingly but quickly around several other school groups and some families when he catches sight of Jenna Howard, madly scribbling in a notebook in case she gets quizzed about this later and over there is Karen and her dad. No one else had hair that red that except Greg, which meant that all (or at least a large number) of his kids were still alive and (mostly) behaving. It would have been really hard to explain otherwise to Elizabeth Weir.
But oh, above the hum of excitement of being in a museum, because even at its most boring it is decidedly not school, he could hear what can only be Peter: irrepressible, irrefutable Peter Adams, arguing about… the human body? Near enough that John feels like a sneaky eavesdropper and, listening, he's struck with a double wave of hilarity and that special kind of embarrassment that being in charge of overly inquisitive children can bring.
"Dude, the awesomest part of your body is totally your bones. I mean, they grow and stuff and without them, we'd be a big pile of skin and all squishy with blood and our livers down in our knees!"
The short chorus of "ew!" and "cool!" tells John that Peter had an audience, most likely the rest of the class and probably all behind that nearby display of the bones of the foot. But then another voice chimes in, and the embarrassment looms exponentially, because this isn't a marginally silly (and ungrammatical, makes John cringe) talk with a passing kid, but someone older, old in a bitingly sarcastic way that makes John stutter a step in surprise.
"How picturesque. While your imagery is compelling vivid, the importance of how strong or 'cool' your bones structure is kind of pales in comparison to the brain's ability to amass and analyze large amounts of information, regulate breathing and oh, I don't know, do everything of interest."
"So you'd wanna just be a really smart jellyfish, then?" This was Susie Corrigan, who usually let others take the lead. Huh.
The man (arguing with second graders? Seriously?) coughs out a short and grudging laugh. "Better a squishy jellyfish than a moron who can stand up straight," he said, and John has to laugh at that.
"Squish!" said Alec with something like satisfaction, and there's another giggle-filled chorus of "ew!" that rises in pitch, even as it dissolves into the shriek of Linda poking Jeff in the back (Look, I'm squishing you!) and then Brandon starting a highly enthusiastic story about some guy in a movie he saw once who'd been a brain in a jar, only a brain, gross, but then there was this other guy who used it to… here the man throws in some data point on the science of neuro transplants and John decides that maybe he needs to make an appearance.
"Okay guys," he pokes his head around the edge of a colorful display on the circulatory system, sees a ring of his students and a guy in jeans and a rumpled button down. "10 more minutes, then we're heading out."
There's a low rumble of groans, but the kids quickly scatter—with a drive-by kind of hugging cling from Susie, who gets like that sometimes—to see their most favorite exhibit one last time, or spend the last few precious minutes wandering in and out of the human heart replica (and yeah, Mr. Sheppard, they knew it wasn't a real heart. Duh.)
Finally it's just John and… the guy who got talked down by some second graders. He isn't, John notices, much older than John himself, a little more tired looking but otherwise the only remarkable thing about him is the way his hair sort of tufts from his head with the same overly bright energy he'd used to debate with Peter. He meet John's gaze, eyes smart and a little fierce, but then drops it as he seems to evaluate the situation: strange guy talking to kids that apparently are in some way John's.
"It's important for kids to be able to debate, especially about scientific matters," he says. Which wouldn't have sounded like an apology (because John gets the sense from it that the guy doesn't make many and wouldn't do them well if he did) except he looks a little embarrassed and talks a little fast, like he thinks John's ready to call security about the weird guy who debates with strange children.
Yeah, it's a little weird, but hey, kids are weird, so John cuts him some slack, because it wasn't like the kids hadn't started it, and it had been an interesting discussion (might show up in the next week's writing assignments, what do you think is the most important part of the body? Give examples!)
"I'll be sure to mention to Peter's dad that he stayed up past his bedtime; there's no way that something like The Man with Two Brains would show up earlier than midnight."
Which really isn't what he'd meant to say, but John decides to roll with it.
"At least it was from before Steve Martin stopped being funny?" the guy answers, with a little quirk to his lips like he was equally bemused by the way this conversation is going.
"True," John says. After a not quite awkward pause, he gets out, "I'm John."
"Rodney, I'm Rodney," the guy replies almost too rapidly, and the same nervous look is back, like he fears that John had forgotten but now remembers that here is a Stranger near His Kids. "And it's not like I hang around in museums to trick kids into answering questions about cardiovascular trivia for some creepy reason or whatever; I have a perfectly respectable job that involves an office and textbooks and no bars on the windows, so I hope you aren't going to be pissed that your little… which one was yours?"
"All of them, actually."
The guy—Rodney—pauses. John can almost hear the gears turning.
"Either you're just in charge, or I've stumbled onto this bizarre group family situation that you only see on those channels with documentaries about quintuplets and medical miracles, not that I'm judging if you are, of course, I mean, my family wasn't exactly something to write glowing reviews about, and if you're taking them to a museum that's a positive cultural experience. I think the only time I spent with my dad was watching tv when he yelled at the hockey refs—"
"Rodney," John gets in, when it's clear that this isn't ending any time soon. "I'm their teacher. They're my students. So, technically, all of them and none of them are mine."
"Oh," and Rodney blinked. "Sorry. John, right? John. Sorry. Not that I'm sorry you're their teacher, or that you are a teacher, of course. I teach, college students at UPenn and I'm sure by the time I get back all my TAs will have been terrorized into giving up my answer keys… wait, if you're their teacher, then don't tell me it was you who gave that kid the line about your liver in your knees?"
"Hey," says John, and a grin is taking over the amused shame that kids will repeat what you say, no matter how stupid. "If they remember it, it can't all be bad." Whatever Rodney's about to say (and it has to be something, the guy's not exactly quiet) John's attention is taken instead by Karen's dad, standing near the door of the room and gesturing at his watch. Time to go. When John looks at Rodney again, it's clear he saw and understands the motioning.
"Gotta get back," John says, though part of him (the part that's enjoying the conversation, even the fact that Rodney seems to be unable to talk with any kind of filter at all) wishes it wasn't true.
"Yeah, especially seeing as they're not yours," Rodney smiles a bit. "Well, good luck. Traffic's going to be terrible."
"As usual," John replies. He turns, but something makes him turn back. "Hey, Rodney, what do you teach?"
Rodney looks surprised, something that John thinks must not happen very often. Still, a good look for him.
"Teach? Me? I teach physics and astrophysics to a small group of mostly competent undergrads and a growing number of morons who should really just be English majors."
As much as John is dying to mention that he minored in English at college, he continues on with a smile that he wishes wasn't so shy.
"Maybe you'd want to come talk to my kids about some of it? Give Peter another run for his money?"
Stupid, is his first thought. Lame, even if it's not totally (well, not entirely) an excuse. What college professor would want to waste time telling little kids about hard sciences and spend time with yelling and questions (and, knowing Room 12, a disaster or two). Damn, he's bad at this.
"I… sure," says Rodney, and his smile is miles less nervous than it was.
"Okay. Room 12, front hall in twenty, time to get back on the bus!" Even though he can't pick out specific kids yet (and wow, how much does he owe the world to his parent chaperones for all this? Also, is he seriously making a not-quite-but-sort-of date in the middle of a school day? Focus, John.) there's a murmured cheer and subtle mass migration towards the exit. Then "here," and John digs in the pocket of his jeans, comes up with an extra of the cards he gave to all of his kids in case they got lost. They're embarrassingly bright pink and say FIRST RULE: DON'T PANIC! but most importantly they have John's cell and email address. Rodney's hand is warm and he catches the edges of John's fingers as he closes around the card.
"Okay. Great." Rodney grins.
John does too, then flushes a bit. Shit, he is going to be the last person on the bus, and Kelly's mom can read him like a book, and eventually Teyla would find out, she has ways, and he would never hear the end of it.
"You knew, I'm sure, that jellyfish don't actually have brains," John says, feeling the remains of a stupid grin still clinging to his face.
"Yeah," admits Rodney and flushes a little like he's embarrassed. "But they probably didn't."
"I'll fix that," John promises, mostly to make Rodney laugh, which it does, so John can leave with a bouncy, amused feeling that doesn't even dim when Emily is sick (again) on the way home, and Ronnie and Harry nearly come to blows over a highly intense game of Go Fish.
Right before he turns off the lights in Room 12, all children finally parceled off to cars and babysitters and away, he glances into Tolstoy's cage, gives the eternally Zen-looking turtle what must be a exceedingly goofy grin.
"Best field trip yet, buddy. Next time I'll bring you back something."