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Darling Boy

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She's beautiful, of course. That's the thing about Pegasus. The chieftain's daughter is never an ugly old hag or a five-year-old girl. Even the space pirates are tall, curvy, and leather-clad when living in space for extended periods of time is supposed to make you lose muscle mass and get all bloaty. The only other constant, of course, is that they can't keep their hands off John.

Cilia, Mila, Miley, whatever the hell her name is, blushes and giggles, ducking and leaning her head into John. Ordinarily, Meredith would just roll her eyes, grumble a little and follow Ronon over to the overflowing buffet table on the other side of the courtyard, but she just doesn't have the patience today. She hasn't for the last three months.

She doesn't think when she strides over there, even knowing how ridiculous she looks doing her bouncy little angry walk. John is in the middle of refusing the alien rotgut du jour when she grabs him hard by the bicep, physically tearing him away from the little slut with a curt, "sorry, this one's taken."

Strangely the little hussy blushes even more than when she'd been busy chatting up Mer's husband, executing a formal curtsey. "I am deeply sorry, Dr. McKay. Among my people, it is customary for a man to change his name to that of his wife's family. I was not aware."

"Not your fault," Mer grumbles, giving John's bicep an extra squeeze. "That's actually rather enlightened. Now, if you'll excuse us, my husband has a little groveling he has to do."

In solidarity, it seems, Mila gives John a parting glare before taking her perfect body and her flowing skirts elsewhere.

"You are such a slut," Mer says at the same time John whispers, "What the hell is your problem?"

"My problem! I'm not the one off romancing some probably disease-ridden space tramp five feet away from his wife. Or did you forget about the whole death do us part bit? I know you have the attention span of a gnat, but the words did come out of your mouth. Kind of hard to miss."

John is getting that stubborn pout of his, his eyes narrowing in the cold anger that Mer is so used to, especially recently. "I thought we agreed to put an end to the jealousy and let me be friendly to our trading partners." That much is true, of course. In order to stay on the team when they got together, Mer promised to trust John with alien women and to never mention the whole Chaya incident ever again. And she normally keeps up her end of the bargain, at least up until now.

"And I thought you agreed you'd keep it in your pants."

John looks down at his zipper. "Last I checked, it's still in there. Has been for a while."

Mer scowls. Jennifer said that everything is healed up well enough for them to have sex again, but she's not ready. Even if she sees the lines of tension and doubt on John's face, she just can't. "Watch it, you insensitive prick. Keep that up and you'll be sleeping on the couch."

"I'm already sleeping on the couch!" John half-shouts, loud enough that the little perky princess he chatted up earlier, turns from her conversation with Ronon to wince and stare at them. John gives her one of his charming aw-shucks-what-can-you-do shrugs. It makes Mer want to hit him. The problem is that deep down she knows that John is just doing what he always does: being effortlessly charming. But that doesn't stop the anger. God, she's so angry.

"Well, if you have a problem with that, you can always just snap your fingers and have some hot, young thing in your bed, where you can sew your seed!"

John gapes, looking thunderstruck. His shoulder's sag and for the first time, Mer notices how tired he looks. Their couch really isn't very comfortable. "Is that what this is about? Mer--" he reaches out for her, but Meredith turns away. She doesn't want to deal with this. She shouldn't have to.

"I'm tired. Teyla and I will be heading back to the gate now."

Mer sneaks a glance over her shoulder after she corrals Teyla and they are ready to leave. Space bimbo #537 is back at John's side, "apologizing" for making John's dowdy old wife retreat. For his part, John looks like he wants to come after her, but he knows the importance of this trade agreement. Thank god she married a man who probably takes his emotional cues from Chuck Norris; otherwise they might actually have to talk about this.

Teyla is looking righteous again. Easy for her to say, with her perfectly attentive husband and charming little baby. Teyla can blame everything that's ever gone wrong in her life on the Wraith. It must be a comforting feeling.

"If you are truly feeling unwell, Meredith," Teyla says, "then I am glad to accompany you back. But if you are doing this to spite John--"

"I am tired." Who's to say she can't be both tired and vindictive in one? She is a genius, after all.

"Very well. I am simply concerned for his well-being, and yours. He is doing his best."

"I don't doubt it." The question is whether or not John's best is enough.

 

Of course, Teyla insists that they proceed directly to the infirmary to deal with Meredith's fatigue. Better a bunch of needles than having to look at John and his confused sympathy for another minute.

Though Meredith still misses Carson, she's glad it's Jennifer here for her now, and not just because she's a woman. Carson was always far too emotionally involved in his work. Jennifer is compassionate, but she doesn't push it. Like Meredith, she identifies a problem and a solution and doesn't get tangled up in the in-between.

Jennifer does the cursory exam in silence, biting her lip like a schoolgirl waiting to be called on. Mer rolls her eyes. "Spit it out, already."

"Sorry, I was going to wait for your next appointment, so the colonel could be here."

"I'm not too happy with the colonel right now, so better he's not."

"Okay. If you're sure."

Meredith nods.

"Well, I guess we should get right to it, then." Jennifer takes a deep breath, like she's about to slay a dragon, not inform Mer about her medical advice. "Your latest scans show evidence of small secondary tumors developing along the abdominal wall. Ordinarily, we wouldn't have caught this for a good couple of months, but thanks to the ancient medical scanners, I think we can really nip this in the bud. A few rounds of chemo and we'll be done. I'm going to have the drugs shipped over on the next gate-bridge vital supplies run and we can proceed from there."

"Would it be easier if my treatments were done on Earth?" Mer asks, unsure of why she's even considering it.

"I guess that depends," Jennifer acknowledges. "In terms of treatment facilities, all that's really required is an IV pole and people around taking care of you. But, it might be better in your case to recover where people aren't constantly demanding you fix the sewage system or help them save the galaxy. We'll probably go with a course of three treatments to start with. That's three months away. I'm not sure Mr. Woolsey would grant you both leave when you could be treated here."

"He won't have to grant it to both of us," Mer replies. John's anxious hovering was bad enough after the surgery. She doesn't need any more of it now. She can go stay with Jeannie. Seeing Maddie and Bradley and Robbie might rub things in, but Jeannie will take care of things. She always does.

"I don't know if you'll be able to make the colonel stay behind."

"I will if you don't tell him."

"But Meredith--" Jennifer looks pained. She is, of course, the sheltered hopeful romantic type that Meredith has always loathed. How can they kid themselves into believing that love conquers all when so many couples don't work out? Statistically, the world is not castles and disney movies and happily ever after. You fall in love, and maybe it will be one of the few relationships that succeeds, but you can't jinx it by insisting that it will be.

"Doctor patient confidentiality, Jennifer. That's the one good thing about you voodoo practitioners."

"And I won't say anything, but do you know what it'll do to the colonel? He hardly--"

Jennifer is interrupted by none-other than the bastard himself comes stumbling in, pushed forward by Ronon. "I told you, I was faking it!" John exclaims.

"Sheppard threw up. I'll be in the gym," Ronon announces, leaving Jennifer to rush over with a needle and some vials.

"So you're bulimic now too?" Meredith asks.

"I needed to get away so that I could talk to you. Meredith, I just want to know what's wrong. I want to fix it." He looks young, and so earnest. Meredith is briefly reminded of all the reasons she fell for John Sheppard in the first place - his boyish grin, his awful donkey laugh, his secret inner geek, the fact that he's a good man - the best she's ever known. This is going to hurt. But she doesn't see any other way.

"I want a divorce."

"Okay," Jennifer says, "if we know you were faking it, then I suggest we delay our testing until after you two have had the time to talk."

John nods, getting up without a word and walking to their quarters. "What do you want me to do, Mer?" he whispers, once they're safely inside, Johnny Cash presiding over both of them. "Tell me what to do and I'll do it." He looks pained, and terrified. But John will get over it. He's dealt with one divorce already, and Nancy was certainly a better catch than Mer.

"There's nothing you can do."

"But--"

"It's not you. It's me. Yes, yes, I know what a cliche that is, but I can't do it anymore. I'm miserable. You're miserable. And I don't see how it can get any better."

"Please, Mer, if you'd just try--"

"I've been trying for the past two months, John. This is me trying and I can't do it anymore. I love you. I want you to be happy."

"Letting me help you would make me happy!" John shouts. "That's all I want!"

Except it's not. "And you can help me by giving me some space," she snaps. "I'm going to the labs."

 

Except she doesn't. She ends up in her old quarters. Though she and John had readily accepted the new quarters with the panoramic view and the wrap around balcony, not to mention a bed sized for an actual person, they'd decided to maintain her old room for sleeping space close to the control tower in the event of an emergency.

Mer ends up curled up in her old bed, looking over at smiling pictures of Jeannie and Kaleb at their wedding, Jeannie holding Maddie as a child, and finally herself and John standing out on a balcony at sunset, watching her friend Sam, the whale. Ronon took it, she remembers, when John had first given him a camera and let him go crazy. He's captured them in a rare moment of peace, when they're not squabbling or running for their lives or saving the universe. They're just sitting there like two ordinary people. But they're not ordinary; that's the problem.

Mer realized too late that she wanted the picket fence and the 2.5 kids. Jeannie had it right all along, and Mer was just too stupid to see it. Even when her body made its desires known, she was too busy. There'd always be tomorrow, after her third Phd, her Nobel, tenure. But tomorrow had come and gone and today is too damn late.

Before she knows it, she's crying. The tears are full and surprisingly easy now that she's finally given up and given in. This shouldn't matter. She has her dream job, a great group of friends, an amazing husband, and two galaxies at her feet. She should be able to deal with this.

She will deal with it. So she gets up, pulls out her fourth-least-favorite laptop and gets to work. Radek is almost up to speed on most of her projects and it's not hard to write a few summaries to add to her notes. The resignation letter is actually a piece of cake, though she's not sure when to send it. Brief notes to Ronon and Teyla are easy, too. It's not as though she'll never see them again.

It's John that's hard. But John has always been as much a pain in the ass as he is a pleasure, so she isn't surprised. Ultimately she settles on simple.

Dear John. The irony of writing a dear John letter to a man named John isn't as funny as it might seem. Dear John she writes, I love you, but this just isn't working. I need some time and a few million lightyears of space. If you love me, don't come after me. I'll come back to you..

She's not sure that last part is true or if it's unethical to keep John waiting for her when she might never come back, but it's the best she can do right now. She deserves more than him running off with the space bimbo of the week, so she's going to ask it of him.

 

She begs off the next mission, with Jennifer scowling her disapproval, but thankfully keeping silent. John looks even more exhausted than usual. And he's looking thinner. This is when she'd normally harass him about the awful embarrassment of being married to a manorexic, but she looks away, saying they'll be fine without her. She even waves the team off before they step through the gate. It doesn't take long to pack a bag after that, leaving all of their shared items from the DVD collection to the random pieces of native-gifted art. She does take the misshapen blanket Teyla attempted to knit her when she was pregnant with Torren and the ancient humidifier that's done wonders for her allergies. Everything from Earth is replaceable and much more valuable here anyhow.

Woolsey tries to give her some stupid speech about getting better and how they'll eagerly await her return, but she barely listens, focusing instead on the shimmering blue surface of the wormhole and hating herself for giving this up, even though she knows she has to.

 

Jeannie is great. She's been always great and will always be great. She knows all the right things to say, even holds Mer in her arms and cries with her. It's overwhelming and inexplicable and perfect, but she doesn't feel any better afterwards. Jeannie thinks it's the cancer and the fact that she has to be away from John for her treatment. But that's not it at all.

At night, when Maddie and Bradley and Robbie are all down for the count, she sneaks into their rooms in turn and watches them sleep, sick at her own sentimentality.

John sends emails, of course. She opens the first one. It's surprisingly angry.

You don't get to do this to me, it reads. I know you want to be selfish and hide yourself and your pain. I get it. Trust me, I get it. But I let you take care of me. You need to let me take care of you.

John's right, of course. He's the last one to want to show any kind of weakness or to let anyone take care of him. But after he'd turned into a bug, he'd let her sit with him, stroke his hair and read him to sleep when he wanted nothing more than to claw through his own skin. He'd taken her back to his broken home and his asshole brother and his ex-wife and let her hold him while he mourned a father he thought never cared. She wears most vulnerability easily, but not this one. John's given her every weakness, and she's the one holding back.

The next databurst is full of apologies, so unusual for John. He says he was angry and he just wants her to come home. He'll give her space, but after the first month, he's coming to bring her back. John isn't a very good writer, but she knows him well enough to visualize the pain in his eyes and the weary sadness he's been carrying since they started this whole thing.

The next week, emails come from Teyla and Ronon, too. Teyla relays in awful eloquent detail how John is suffering. How he barely eats and is tired with a depression he's unwilling to admit to. Luckily, Mer's mother taught her to be nearly immune to guilt trips. John is surrounded by friends. They'll take care of him. She resolves not to read any more of Teyla's emails. Or Ronon's, though all he says is, Don't be stupid. Come home.

The chemo catches up to her. Every stupid Lifetime movie symptom crops up, from the loss of a few of her silky brown curls to the nausea and the fatigue. The Miller home is far from quiet, but it's a lot quieter than Atlantis would be. Maybe coming here was the right decision after all. Perhaps it's just the stress of Atlantis and everyone's expectations of her - that she be a brilliant, life-saving genius all of the time and not a woman struggling with such a mundane problem as cancer. Maybe, when John comes in two weeks, he can stay and they'll make it work.

John's next email proves her wrong, of course. There are other options, he says, If it's really what you want, then we can adopt. There are lots of kids in this galaxy looking for homes. He suggests finding a donor and a surrogate. Teyla has already offered to do it. But she's not sure she even wants it. It was a beautiful dream when she thought it might be an accident. A little boy with John's messy hair and a love of model airplanes or a baby-faced girl who'd sit patiently on her lap in the hologram room, the whole universe literally at her feet. But in reality, that's not what happens to people like them. They're getting older and their jobs are dangerous. Neither of them has ever planned on it or wanted it.

Mer had never even considered the possibility until it'd been denied to her and she has no idea about John. It's not something they'd ever dare talk about. But now it aches, deep in her soul like her empty belly, and she wants it like she hasn't wanted anything else ever.

But she'd made her choice long ago. She'd been so desperate to prove that she could play with the big boys that she'd taken those hard, dangerous experiments. And later, in Pegasus, she hadn't really had a choice. She kept track of her lifetime exposure to radiation. She knew all along where it would end up and she took that path anyhow. She'd shut her own doors. She has no one but herself to blame.

She ignores John's next email, despite the subject line of "URGENT."

Don't bother coming, she writes back. I don't want to see you. She ignores that fact that she misses him every day. She can't go five minutes without thinking about his hands, or his goofy smile, or the dumb thing he'd say just to bait her. She keeps herself busy, reading to Robbie or helping Jeannie with a disgustingly vegetarian dinner. She sleeps a lot. It's a holding pattern, and she knows it. Someday she'll either have to go back or she'll have to seattle down here. But right now, better stay suspended in this limbo, letting the emptiness fester.

 

She's as surprised as anyone when John doesn't come, because since when has he ever listened to her? "Oh, Mer," Jeannie says, pulling her into a sympathetic hug. He couldn't have moved on so quickly. He wouldn't have.

She panics, then, rushing to her laptop to hack the files stored in the Atlantis cache at the SGC. What if something happened on a mission? What if he was seriously injured, or worse? Those would be the only things that would stop him from coming.

There's a note of a small infirmary stay, no description, after their latest mission, but he's obviously still alive and kicking, judging by the flood of email in her inbox. Maybe there's a dire situation on Atlantis. Maybe the Wraith have attacked. But the SGC would have contacted her, had that been the case. She'd have an email from Woolsey or a phone call from Sam. She could find out, just by clicking on one of John's messages. But she can't. No, she won't.

 

The second round is worse than the first, and Jeannie is an excellent nurse. She's maternal in everything she does, from not complaining about the puke on her hardwood floors, to the way she gently holds Mer's thinning hair back from her forehead, then later helps her shave her head bald. Jeannie was meant for this. Mer couldn't imagine doing it. John's right. She's selfish - too selfish to deserve what every stupid person on this planet with buck teeth and a woodland shack considers to be a right.

"What's this really about, Mer?" Jeannie says one day. The sun is shining through the kitchen windows, illuminating the whole place like a Martha Stewart photo shoot. Kaleb has taken the kids to see a movie - something awful about a Chihuahua that even Jeannie refuses to subject herself to. Though now, Mer recognizes the lie. Jeannie would have subjected herself to it and maybe even dragged Mer along, if the master plan had not been to leave them here at the kitchen table, the smell of homemade bread baking in the oven.

"Chemo sucks, Jeannie."

"Chemo doesn't explain why you and John are fighting."

"John and I are fighting because I'm being a bitch," she replies, startled at her own honesty.

"You're a-- pain in the butt, most of the time, Mer. John doesn't seem to notice." It's funny how Jeannie thinks she and John have some kind of epic love story. Like they're the only two people in the universe for each other. Mer fully admits there was some epicness involved in their first kiss (after John almost blew himself up with the nuke Mer built) and maybe how they met in a secret military base in Antarctica. But that's just circumstances. They're together because it's easy. It's hardly the stuff of fairy tale legends. Certainly, their domestic life is nothing to write home about. They're either passed out from missions and life-sucking aliens and medical leave or they're watching bad scifi movies and playing computer games.

"I'm not a pain in the butt. And John doesn't notice because the man is woefully oblivious. It's a miracle he notices I exist at all."

"I don't know; you're kind of hard to miss."

That earns Jeannie a little slap against her arm.

"Hey! Hanging around all those military goons has made you violent!"

Mer rolls her eyes. "No, being surrounded by idiots has made me violent. Speaking of which, when are you going to finish up that theorem you sent me a few months ago? You could publish that and show Klienfelder up."

"Don't try to change the subject, Mer. Seriously, what's going one with you? You come back here, by yourself. You sneak around at night. The last two times you were here, we couldn't separate you and John with a scalpel, you were so joined at the hip. Did something happen? Did he break up with you?"

"Why do you assume that he broke up with me. I could have broken up with him."

"Why on earth would you break up with him?" Jeannie had been quite stalwart in her shock that Mer managed to land someone like John Sheppard in the first place.

That's a good question. Mer debates lying, but she can barely do that in front of strangers. She can forget doing it in front of Jeannie. "Because I can't stand to see him, okay?"

"Did he cheat?"

"No, no, no more so than usual. Not that he cheats, usually. He knows I'd cut off his balls if he did. But he flirts. And that's not it. It's me. I can't--" She can't finish her sentance. "The cancer. I can't--" That's when the real tears come, the ones she's been dreading. She's better than this. She's a genius and her life's work certainly is not measured by her ability to incubate an egg. "It's stupid."

"No, no, Mer." Jeannie's hugs are the best: both bone-crushing and soft and comforting at the same time. "It's not stupid. You're allowed to want children with the man you love. It's not a crime."

"But it's not possible," she's out-and-out bawling now, the tears coming in great gasping breaths. She hasn't cried like this since she was a little girl. "I shouldn't want what I can't have, especially when I never took the opportunity when I had it."

"You can want it any time, Mer. It's part of being a woman."

"No, that's bullshit, Jeannie. It's not part of it. This is not some stupid, hippie love and pregnancy conquers all thing. I'm not like that. I don't need that. I never did. It never made sense for me. It still doesn't. I just hate that I can't have it."

"What about John, Mer? Don't you think he's hurting, too? Did he want it?"

"Maybe. I don't know. At first, with the cancer, we thought -- it just happened to coincide with one of those stupid alien sex rituals and he was happy. We were happy about it. It was completely unexpected and we were both more than a little freaked out, but we were happy."

Jeannie takes a deep, stuttering breath. Mer recognizes her own look, when she's getting up the courage to do something that might possibly be very stupid. "I'd do it for you, Mer. If you wanted his genes and your genes, our genes, then I'd donate. I'd be a surrogate for you, if that's what you want. I know I'm supposedly not as smart as you, but--"

"No, Jeannie. I can't ask that of you. I don't even know what John wants. I haven't asked him."

Mer is surprised as anyone when Jeannie slaps her upside the head. "Ow! Who's the violent one now?"

"You deserve it. What the hell are you doing hiding out here when you haven't even told your poor husband why you abandoned him in another galaxy?"

"I don't know," she whispers, the fight suddenly going out of her. God, she's stupid. "He was supposed to come. Why didn't he come? Maybe he's moved on already."

Jeannie slaps her again. "Do you really thing John would do that?"

"He could be trading me in for a working model."

"Don't be ridiculous, Mer. He loves you. He wouldn't put up with all your harlequinesque pouting if he didn't. Tell him to come stay. We'd love to see him again and Robbie keeps asking when he'll come and teach him more about planes."

Mer nods. Going over to her laptop to ask John to come here. There are 123 unopened messages from him, but her eyes immediately go to a single email from Jennifer. The subjectline is ominous: Re: Colonel McKay-Sheppard, Medical Complications. The letter itself is strangely formal:

Dear Dr. McKay-Sheppard,

I am writing to you about a serious medical matter that I am not at liberty to discuss with you over open channels of communication. It is in regards to your husband, Colonel John McKay-Sheppard. His medical status has recently changed. While not life-threatening, the condition combined with his current diagnosed depression has given me cause for concern. Gate travel is not an option for him and has not been for the past month. You need to come home.

CMO Keller

Mer is shaking by the time she finishes reading, thinking about all of the possible things that could go wrong. The fact that John can still write her messages doesn't preclude serious injury and she can't stop thinking about all of the possibilities. The idea of John suffering anything alone is killing her. She supposes that he must have felt the same when she left for her treatment on Earth.

She doesn't open any of John's emails, just slams her laptop shut and grabs her still mostly-packed suitcase and drags them downstairs, demanding that Jeannie drive her to the airport.

 

Nobody at the SGC knows what's the matter with John. They're not even aware that he's off duty. That plus Keller's bizarrely circumspect email makes her wonder what could be so bad that they're hiding it. Could it be a relapse of the retrovirus? But certainly they'd want to report that. Or maybe something they think will get John recalled to Earth, like the loss of a limb or some debilitating illness.

Mer sweats her way through quarantine at Midway, and Dr. Lee and his awkward flirting is no help. She ends up holding up her wedding ring and slamming the door in his face (as much as one can when the doors slide shut). She wonders if it's just being around her that makes him such a moron or if he's like that all of the time.

She's had 27 cups of coffee and 32 hours without sleep by the time she steps through the wormhole to Atlantis. And even though she's exhausted and crazed, there are exactly 5 seconds when she sighs, taking in the familiar stained glass and bronze vaulting architecture. She's home. She hadn't even realized how much she'd missed it.

Woolsey, looking as pressed and thoroughly boring as the day she left, strolls down from the mezzanine to great her, once again babbling on about how good it is to have her back and how he can look forward to increased productivity in the department thanks to her presence. Normally, she'd take the opportunity to preen and to greet Lorne and Chuck and all her faceless well-wishers, but instead she walks past them all, headed straight for the infirmary.

Only to find that John isn't there and neither is Jennifer. The nurse on duty smiles in the face of Mer's surly snarl. "Where is he?"

"Oh, the colonel isn't staying here. He won't be in for a checkup for a few days." So not that serious a medical problem. Keller, the little manipulative bitch. "He's worried about the baby, though. Practically had to kick him out." She smiles even wider, if that's possible.

Mer's stomach sinks. Baby? John wouldn't. He couldn't have. He wouldn't have traded up without at least telling her. Sure, their marriage was convenient, but he's stood by her through worse. He let her insult him down to his very core while going through enzyme withdrawal. He even waited 6 months for her in that time dilation field. But she's been shutting him out. And John does stupid things when frustrated and cornered. He never just waits. He's physically incapable of it. And it would be a perfect John Sheppard kind of irony to knock up the rebound girl.

She's angrier than she can ever remember being, ignoring startled 'hello's and 'welcome back's and the odd 'congratulations' as she strides down the hall in a blind rage. John isn't in their rooms and he isn't in the gym. She scans the women, too. Looking for John's new hot young thing. Esposito is looking a little tubby. And she's John's type - previously slim, brunette, wide-eyed but spirited.

"Dr. McKay!" she exclaims. "Welcome back!"

"Piss off, you husband-nabbing whore."

Esposito looks taken aback. Serves the little wench right.

"Where is he? In your quarters?" Mer demands.

"Who?" the girl has the gall to look frightened.

"So you're not just a tramp, but you're stupid too? My husband. Colonel McKay-Sheppard to you."

"Um, I think I saw him in the mess. But, Dr. McKay--"

Mer doesn't let her finish. She'll have time for the adultering little slut later, she decides as she strides off. She feels righteous, powerful for the first time since this whole thing started. Better that she not waste any time feeling bad for John. Better that they both move on with enough hate to make it a clean break.

The doors to the mess open and everybody pauses, watching her flounce in. People are smiling at her, like they're all in on this sick little joke. They can't wait to see her humiliated. The lunch crowd parts readily to reveal John, sitting across from Teyla and Ronon. She has a second to register that he looks older, with more lines around his eyes than she remembers. He smiles at her, rubbing it in with a cruelty she'd never expect from him, though maybe she should have, watching the things he's done to their enemies. "Mer!" he gets out, before she can spit, "You bastard," making a fist just like John himself taught her and hitting him hard across the face.

He doesn't stand up to restrain her or yell, 'What the fuck, McKay?' like she might have expected. Instead he just curls protectively in on himself, letting Teyla move in front to protect him. It's so unexpected that she whispers, "John?" suddenly confused.

That is, of course, before one of John's dumb marines tackles her to the floor, banging her head against a table leg and dragging her into dizzy unconsciousness.

 

Mer wakes up to a familiar muzzy-headed feeling and Jennifer Keller frowning down at her. "Concussion?" she manages. Her mouth tastes like stale coffee and her vision is still a little wobbly.

"Mild."

"What the hell is wrong with those marines? Don't they know better than to hit a lady."

"You weren't being very ladylike at the time. Though I admit, Sergeant Calloway could have been a little more delicate. This whole thing has made them into overprotective mother hens."

"Overprotective of a cuckhold and a bastard."

"Excuse me?" Jennifer pulls out a penlight. "Maybe you hit your head harder than I thought."

Mer grimaces and swats the light away. "You know, my husband, that hussy, Esposito. Bearing the love child that I couldn't give him."

Jennifer laughs. She honest to god laughs. Mer wants to punch her too. "Wow, when you're wrong, you are really wrong. First of all, Esposito isn't pregnant. She and Dr. Vogel got taken captive by a tribe of aliens who do nothing but sit around and smoke the Pegasus version of weed and eat doughnuts all day. Secondly, you think Colonel Sheppard would cheat on you? Seriously? And last but not least, if you read any of his emails to you and looked at the attached sonogram photos, you'd know that the only love child here is yours."

"That's not possible. You took out all my--" she waved vaguely in the direction of her abdomen. "And I think I'd know if I had any love child!"

Jennifer just shakes her head sadly, pointing over Mer's shoulder.

Her head is spinning, but Mer manages to turn around to find John, curled up on his side in a hospital bed, his black t-shirt riding up to expose the rounded swell of a taunt belly that he unconsciously cradles with one hand. "Okay, that's fucked up."

"Turns out that machine we tried to use to reverse the effects of the cancer was actually to create more alternative means of reproduction. Congratulations, Mer. You're a daddy."

Ordinarily, this is when she'd be glaring at Jennifer, but she can't stop staring. John looks strangely beautiful this way. It's wrong on more levels than she can count, but at the same time, she's so happy it hurts. It's not the way they planned. But it's life. "You're sure it's mine?"

"One-hundred percent."

"Wow," is all she can say, pushing herself up to shuffle over to John's bed. He has a nasty black eye forming where she hit him. And boy does she feel like an asshole, hitting her pregnant spouse. She reaches out a tentative hand, almost afraid to touch and break the spell. But ultimately, she can't resist. His skin is warm beneath her palm, the curvature strange on his hairy belly. It's weird but still engrossing and miraculous and perfect.

John's eyes flutter open at her touch. He smiles and stretches, arching his back but holding her hand to his swollen stomach.

"Only you, Sheppard," she murmurs. Because seriously, he's the only one would could possible manage to get himself knocked-up while trying to help save his wife's ovaries.

"I missed you," he whispers sleepily, drawing her hand up to his lips to kiss. "Sorry I couldn't come get you. Had to stay with the machine. Keep John Jr. safe."

"A boy?" She's awed.

He shrugs. "Told Keller not to tell me until you got here. I'm naming 'im, though. Abusive wife, doesn't get to name things." He yawns. Jennifer was right: he looks exhausted.

"I'm sorry," she whispers. She's sorry for so much.

He nods. "We have to talk."

Yeah, they do. For once in their lives, they do.

 

Later, after she curls around him in bed, after a long talk about how she's never allowed to shut him out like this again, and how they're going to take good care of this kid, no matter what, she'll sit down with her laptop and all those unopened emails. They start out cryptic: I have a little medical SNAFU. Please come back. Then they move to veiled: Remember that episode of Enterprise? The one that made you fall in love with Trip Tucker, despite how much the show sucked? More hints: Red Dwarf? It happened on Red Dwarf too. Then there was desperate: I'm really freaking out, here, McKay. You need to come back and help me with this. And then he'd given up on the pretense altogether: I don't want to be barefoot and pregnant alone in another galaxy. and Why don't you answer me? and worst of all: I'm sorry I'm taking this away from you. I didn't mean to. and I miss you.

She'll cry a little at how stupid she's been, and she'll let him comfort her, when he has every right to make her suffer as much as he wants after what she's done to him. She'll apologize to Esposito, and even offer to go running with her to work off the extra pounds. She'll apologize to John, too, every day, as much as she can, until he tells her that he doesn't want any more apologies. It's time to focus on the more important things.

She'll massage his ankles and fetch Athosian flatbread and green tea ice cream and stand behind the marines when they try to coddle and protect him. It doesn't get any less weird, but the day the Ancient machine beams a beautiful little boy out of him and into her arms, it's worth it. God, is it worth it.

 

And later, Dylan McKay-Sheppard will sit on her lap on the pier, watching Sam the whale, who's all grown up now. Dylan will ask his mother where he came from and Mer will say, "Oh, you were the best kind of accident." But deep down, she knows that Dylan wasn't an accident at all, because as much as John tries not to let on, she's positive that he's never touched an ancient device and not known its purpose.