It was all Rodney's fault. That was John's story and he was sticking to it.
It all started with a stupid side comment Rodney made about missing his cat, which he brought up once a year or so just to remind everyone of the great sacrifice he'd made in coming to Atlantis.
Every once in a while when Rodney saved all their asses, John figured he had a point.
After Atlantis settled off the California coast and the program was Declassified, it seemed they weren't going anywhere for a while, so Rodney said he'd try to get his cat back. But the gal he'd left Tiger with wasn't having any of it. Not for love or money or even a ride to the Moon was she willing to give up the beast.
John didn't hear much about it after that, since Rodney and Jennifer had moved out of Atlantis to an apartment on Nob Hill, and then rumor had it Jennifer left him for some amazing job in the state capital, and Rodney went into a deep sulk and began working remote. When he called in sounding like Oscar the Grouch, John started to worry about the state of his personal hygiene.
"I can get just as much done from here," Rodney said, patched in to the conference room. "More, in fact, since I don't have idiots coming after me all the time with stupid questions."
"What about all the areas left to explore?" John tried not to sound too desperate. "We still haven't opened the East Tower."
"Eh. I have more than enough to keep me busy."
Retreat, re-group, and re-engage. "Okay, well. I guess I'll see you when I see you."
"Sure. When I have time." Rodney sounded odd, but John couldn't pinpoint what was up. "Gotta go," Rodney said airily, and signed off.
"Haven't seen McKay around," Ronon said a few days later during their run.
"Yeah. He's spending more time working remote." John's knees were killing him. Maybe it was time to get an older running partner. Or take up golf full time.
"Did you do something?"
"Me, what? What would I do?"
"I dunno. He's your friend."
"He's your friend, too. Maybe you did something."
"I stole his fries last week," Ronon said, coming to a halt by the rest stop. He grabbed a bottle of water and cracked it open. "Maybe that was it."
"Right. The infamous fry incident."
"He was pretty steamed," Ronon said thoughtfully. "I should apologize."
"You do that, buddy."
"They were great fries, though."
John sighed. "Oh, my God."
Ronon laughed and punched him in the shoulder. "C'mon. Once more around the tower."
John tried not to think about it too much, but he missed Rodney like a raw nerve after an extraction. It didn't make sense: why would he miss a toothache? But that was Rodney McKay: a nagging pain that you missed when he was gone.
John obtained Rodney's phone number, but there was no cell tower in range of Atlantis, so that meant getting patched through by Chuck or Amelia, which was just begging for gossip. Not that John cared what a couple of Canadians softies thought.
"You want me to what, sir?"
"Patch me through to McKay's cell phone, Chuck. Here's the number."
Chuck looked up at him with button eyes. "Yes, sir. Patching call through to the command channel."
The phone rang twice as John stepped away from the console.
"Hello? Yes? What."
"Sheppard. How did you get this number?"
"I have my ways."
"You asked Teyla, didn't you? And she only got it from Jennifer in case there was an emergency."
"Yup, those were the ways."
"So, what can I do for you?"
"Do?" John fiddled with his holster. It was time for a new strap. He should stop resting his hand on it. "Nothing you need to do. I just wanted to talk about..." Inspiration seized him. "...my new cat. I mean, I'm getting a kitten."
"You're getting a kitten?" Rodney's voice rose. "When? Where? What's its name?"
John's heart tumbled in delight. "Not so fast. You think I'd give up all my kitten secrets just like that?" He snapped his fingers.
"Pictures. I want pictures immediately."
"All right, all right. Hold your horses. I'll send them as soon as it's in the bag." John's mind raced. "Maybe you can help me pick out supplies."
"Of course! You've never had a cat. You don't know the first thing about cat ownership. There's so much I'll need to coach you on." Rodney paused. "Wait a minute. What inspired this sudden need for a cat?"
"Well...I wanted a dog, but I wouldn't get it approved. A neutered cat, you already got authorization for."
"It's not so easy, training a kitten," Rodney warned. "You'll need a lot of help."
"Really? If you say so."
"Of course! You're a beginner! Cats are like fine machines—they require careful handling. Especially when they're young."
"I'd be glad for the help, thanks."
"Don't mention it. Send me those photos."
"You got it," John said, sweating a little.
He had to find a kitten, stat.
A couple of weeks passed before John could implement his plan. For one thing, the IOA was trying to filch the weapons chair from Atlantis and relocate it to Colorado Springs. For another, Director Woolsey was bleating about transferring to move in with his new boyfriend and leave John to run Atlantis.
After John had schooled the IOA about forward fronts and planetary defense and convinced Woolsey to ask his boyfriend if he wouldn't prefer to live in a gorgeous oceanfront apartment rather than in landlocked Leadville, Colorado, John could finally redirect his attention to more important matters like Operation: Kitten.
Turned out, San Francisco had plenty of kittens. And most of them had very, very sharp claws.
"Do all them like to bite?" he asked the SPCA assistant, Tika. "Or is that just a me thing?"
"It depends on breed and the mood the kitten is in. Sometimes they're feeling playful, and sometimes they want to cuddle. Some cats have more of the predator inside them."
John stuck his finger out and let a small gray fluffball gnaw on his finger. This one didn't pierce his skin; her golden eyes looked up at him as if to say, "You're mine, human."
"This one seems okay. What breed is Apple? The predator kind?" Maybe Apple could hunt Wraith.
"Apple's a mix. A gray shorthair. We call her a tuxedo because of the bit of white on her chest."
John brushed his finger over the fluff. "It looks like a heart."
Tika smiled at him indulgently, and John fought a blush. "I'll take this one. What do I have to do?"
Tika laughed. "Do you have a pen and paper?"
John barely escaped the pet store with his life. He had: a litter box and eight pounds of litter, a cat scoop, a cat bed, a scratching post, ten pounds of kibble and a case of canned food, food and water bowls, a carpeted cat tree, and about two thousand dollars' worth of cat toys. And one squeaky kitten asleep in a carrier on the passenger seat.
The sales clerk had rubbed his hands with glee as he rang John up. All John could think, after he got a couple of marines to haul the pile of crap on the ferry back to his quarters in Atlantis and opened the carrier to let Apple out, was that he was in charge of this tiny life, this miniscule fluffball, and he didn't have the first clue what to do. It was like taking over for Sumner all over again but worse, because the kitten was even less communicative than his marines.
He really needed someone who knew what they were doing. Which reminded him this was all part of a plan. Somehow, he'd lost sight of that. He picked up Apple and looked her in her fuzzy face.
"You have to put on the charm now, Apple, and get Rodney to come over here."
Apple opened her mouth and emitted a tiny squeak.
John frowned. "That's a good start." He could admit, to himself, that was kind of cute. She had a really pink tongue and sharp white teeth. John offered her a finger and she batted at it.
John cradled her in one hand and petted the fur on her belly.
She squirmed and stared at him reproachfully.
"Sorry. I just wanted to see how soft it was." He put her down near the litter pan. "That's for doing your business." He opened the bag of food and filled her food bowl. "That's if you get hungry. Oh, water." He poured water into her bowl and put it next to the food bowl, then pointed.
She stared up at him from his boots.
"There. Food and water and a place to eliminate."
Apple blinked and yawned.
"I'll fix up your bed after I take some pictures for Rodney." John nodded to himself and got out the new-fangled phone the SGA had issued him after their return from Pegasus. It took pictures and everything. He went to another galaxy for a few lousy years and everything changed. Including his romantic tastes.
John sighed and crouched down. "Do something cute."
Apple stared at him.
John took a picture. "C'mon. Do that thing with your paws."
Apple blinked and twisted to lick her flank. Losing her balance, she fell over, her legs flailing into the air.
"I'd call that an A for effort, D for execution," John said.
Apple stayed on her back and proceeded to clean her belly fur.
John called it in Apple's favor. "Next time, bucko." He went over to his computer and shot Rodney a quick email, attaching the pictures of Apple with the subject, "I'm in way over my head."
Then John set up Apple's cat tree, cat bed, and unwrapped some of her toys, scattering them around. By the time he was done, the place looked pretty crowded. He found an old in-box and put the rest of the cat toys in there.
"If you need another toy, just get it from there," John said. Apple looked up from her butt-licking and stared at him.
John's phone rang, and Apple startled and darted under his desk.
"Hey, it's okay." John looked at the phone in surprise. It shouldn't even be working. "Rodney, how are you calling?"
"Never mind that. Well, I installed a couple of boosters and a repeater, but that's not important. You got a kitten! You actually adopted a kitten! What's the kitten's name? Is it a boy or a girl?"
"Apple. Her name is Apple." John felt breathless all of a sudden. He couldn't believe the plan had actually worked. It took ages for Rodney to respond to email these days, and here he'd actually called.
"Apple," Rodney said in wonder. "She's adorable. Utterly adorable. Is that a flash of white on her chest?"
"Yeah. They tell me she's a tuxedo."
"A gray tuxedo. Adorable. I have to meet her."
"Well, you know where we are," John drawled. Apple crept out from under his desk, and John knelt to pick her up. He held her a little awkwardly until he figured out to support the curve of her haunches, and then he scuffed the soft fur under her chin.
"Oh, my God," Rodney said. "Is that her? Is she purring?"
"Yup. Pretty stinking cute." It felt like a confession.
"Facetime me," Rodney demanded.
"It's a button. Just...here, I'll do it. Just accept."
"Okay," John said dubiously, and when his phone bleeped at him, he clicked the green button.
Rodney's smiling face showed up on his screen.
"Hey, it's you," John said.
"Yes. Hi." Rodney stared at him quizzically, not unlike Apple. "Hold up the kitten."
John started to turn the camera toward the kitten, but Rodney stopped him.
"No, no. Hold the kitten up so I can see you both." Rodney grunted. "I want to see how you're getting along."
"We just met!" John protested, but he held Apple up next to his face. She immediately twisted and climbed onto his shoulder, putting a paw on his cheek for stability.
"Oh, my God," Rodney said, his voice hushed.
"What? Is she not supposed to do that?"
"No," Rodney choked. "That's fine."
"You gotta help me out, here. I have no idea what I'm doing." John touched her paw and she curled it around his fingertip.
Rodney squeaked out something, then said. "I'll be in the City tomorrow for, um, a big data dump. I'll stop by and give you a hand, all right?"
"Thanks a lot. You're the best." John nodded a goodbye then ended the call.
"You hear that?" he said to Apple. "You're the perfect Rodney bait."
Apple yawned and hit him in the face with her stinky breath.
"Hmm. I wonder if they sell breath mints for cats. I'll ask Rodney tomorrow."
John spent Wednesday breaking up a tangle of arguments among the marines. It seemed Grosman held Brinks responsible for getting between him and Ramirez, who said, no, sir, he called quits on them because he heard through Al Zahrani that Perez held a private party in his quarters and Grosman was the star attraction. Once John unraveled it, he pulled the main parties into his office.
"Damn it, Ramirez! You know Al Zahrani is a joker. I'll bet you twenty he made it all up."
Apple popped up from his lap where she'd been sleeping and squeaked her displeasure at the raised voices. Her tiny paws barely reached his desk.
"Oh, my goodness," Grosman said. "Sir, is that your kitten?"
"Yes," John said slowly.
"Can I, please? Sir, may I pet her?"
"Do you solemnly swear to apologize to Brinks and make up with Ramirez?" John looked between the two of them.
"Oh, yes, sir!" "Me, too, sir!"
"Well, all right then." John lifted Apple onto his desk, and she pranced forward toward the curious hands. Ramirez and Grosman petted her carefully until her purrs echoed through the small office.
"She's awful cute, sir."
"She's okay," John said nonchalantly, proud as heck for some reason. It's not like she was his kid or something. "Okay, enough. Back to your posts, and remember what I said."
"Yes, sir. Don't listen to Al Zahrani."
"He's a clown. Dismissed."
The two about faced and exited, leaving John alone with Apple.
"Good job, Apple. I think you're going to be an excellent addition to the squad."
Apple yawned and then jumped down from the desk to the chair, then down to the floor, where she started gnawing on John's bootlaces.
"Hey! Cut it out."
She tumbled to her back and blinked up at him, paws in the air.
Okay, that was pretty freaking adorable. John tapped his radio. "Ronon. You free to spar?"
"Yeah, I can be there in twenty."
"Terrific. See you then. Sheppard out."
Maybe Ronon would knock some sense back into him.
"You got a cat?"
"You know what a cat is?"
"Sure. I had one when I was little." Ronon reached out and scratched Apple under the chin.
"Her name is Apple."
"She's a beauty," Ronon said admiringly.
"Oh, my God. Not you, too."
"What? Kittens are cute. Soft, but still cunning. Good at catching pests." Ronon nodded approvingly. "Mine got stolen. Broke my heart."
"You and Rodney, both," John muttered. "Look, are you going to hit me with sticks, or not?"
"Sure, if that's what you want. Here, let's make her a nest." Ronon gathered some towels together and fashioned a round bed for Apple, then plucked her from John's hands and settled her in the middle. Apple looked disgruntled and got up to turn around a few times. John left her to explore, and went to get his bantos.
"Come on, let's get cracking."
"What's got you worked up?"
"Nothing. It's just been a long week. First the IOA wanting to steal parts of Atlantis, then Woolsey trying to ditch us."
Ronon grunted and twirled his sticks. John tried to do the same but dropped the left one. "Damn it."
Ronon grinned. "You need to work on that side."
"No kidding." He lunged forward, hoping to catch Ronon off guard, but Ronon was ready for him, stopping him with a sliding block. John didn't wait for the return strike, but spun and rolled for some distance, hearing the whiff over his head as Ronon went for him.
"Ha!" John said. He'd made Ronon miss for once. They circled again, looking for an opening, and then something gray bounded between them.
"Hold!" Ronon said, dropping and laying down his sticks. "Hey, little one. It's dangerous out here." He caught Apple in his hands and lifted her up to his chest. "This is big people work." He stroked his thumb under her chin and she arched her neck all the way back, her eyes closing in bliss.
"You've really got her number," John said.
"She's a sweetheart." Ronon looked up. "What made you want a cat? We have a pest problem?"
John felt his face heat. "No...I just, you know. You're hanging with Amelia a lot, Teyla's with Kanaan and Torren. Rodney moved out of the City." John shrugged. "I wanted someone."
"So you got a cat," Ronon said doubtfully.
"Why not? It's not like Atlantis is a social club." It was true. People had their jobs and their own circles and not much time for a superior officer or a non-scientist with a wimpy Masters in math. John walked away and dropped his bantos back in the bin. It didn't look like he was getting his sparring in, after all.
"I wish her health and long life," Ronon said suddenly, and John turned to him surprise.
Ronon looked bashful. "It's what we say when someone has a new family member." He held Apple out in his palms.
"Oh. Thanks. Thanks a lot," John said, taking her and holding her close. She purred a little, a faint rumble under his fingers. "I'll arrange for a cat-sitter next time we spar."
"Good. You want to get some lunch?"
"Nah, thanks. I have to feed her first."
Ronon grinned suddenly. "You're a good parent."
John blinked and turned to hide his shock. "Thanks, um. Later." He slipped his shoes on and headed back to his quarters.
"Okay, so, take what Ronon said with a grain of salt," he told Apple. She looked up at him and scrambled to climb a little higher. He let her rest her paws over his shoulder as he walked. "See, I'm not a dad. I'd be no good as a dad. Think of me as, like, an uncle. I could do uncle."
Apple shifted and a totally obnoxious smell drifted to his nose.
"Jesus, kid. That is some stinky fart right there. Maybe we should change your food," he said as he stepped into his quarters.
"Smelly farts are a way of life, I'm afraid," Rodney said from his bed. "It's just a part of owning a cat."
"Rodney, hey," John said. "I didn't think you were serious about coming by."
"Well, I was. Now gimme." Rodney reached out and wiggled his fingers.
John lifted Apple off his shoulder, saying, "Apple, this is your Uncle Rodney. His farts are even stinkier than yours."
"Shut up, you," Rodney said, a bright grin on his face. "Don't listen to that cranky gus," he said, cradling Apple in his arms. He was wearing his orange fleece sweater, John assumed because he'd just stepped off the ferry, and Apple immediately began flexing her paws in the material.
"See, that! Why does she do that with her paws?" John said, trying to ignore the goofy smile on Rodney's face that made John's heart beat irregularly.
"She's making muffins," Rodney said.
"What's that?" John moved in closer.
"Kittens do it to make their moms produce milk. Even after they're weaned, they still do it as a vestigial behavior."
"So, she's hungry?" John said, worried.
Rodney looked up at him, his expression telegraphing, You adorable dork. "She might be, but she'll do muffins anyway. It just means she's comfortable. You're doing a good job making her happy."
"You don't have to sound so surprised." John went to open a can of food. Apple squeaked and John watched, amused, as she squirmed out of Rodney's hold to jump down and trot over to her bowl. "She's pretty smart. This is only the second time she's found her food bowl."
"Cats are very smart," Rodney said, coming up beside him. He seemed as fascinated as John, and they both watched her chow down for a few minutes before John pulled out a chair and offered it to Rodney.
"So...come on. You promised to give me the skinny on kitten care."
"Oh, well." Rodney rubbed his hands together. "I spent most of last night compiling a document on everything you need to raising a kitten." He held up a flash drive. "Of course, I'm available if you have questions. I should be around much more now that Radek and I are working on the star drive together."
"You are? I thought that project got canned."
Rodney waved his hand. "We just needed to apply a little pressure on Sam to get her to assist with the variance equations. She's on board, now."
"What kind of pressure?" John asked suspiciously.
Rodney shrugged. "We offered her a co-authorship on the paper."
John raised his eyebrows but said nothing. "So, now the three of you are working on it together?"
"Didn't I say so?"
A bell tinkled, and Rodney's face broke into a grin. "She has a toy box?"
"What did you get her?" Rodney went over. "Oh, I love these things. It's like fishing for kittens." He grabbed the rod and dangled the mouse in front of Apple, who started leaping up desperately trying to catch it. She kept tumbling down and leaping up, to Rodney's giggles.
John watched in awe. He'd never heard Rodney giggle before.
"That's it, little puss. Come on, you can do it."
"Come on, Apple," John said. "Show the big meanie what a champ you are."
Apple ran and flipped, going ass over end, and then plopped to the floor to look up, surprised. John leaned against the table and laughed so hard tears started in his eyes.
Rodney grinned at him fondly. "She's a champ, all right. Reminds me of you."
"Shut up." John wiped his eyes. "All right. Time for patrol, little one."
Rodney's face contorted. "Little one? Oh, my god, that's cute."
John shrugged uncomfortably. "Ronon started it. Anyway, I don't like leaving her alone just yet, so she goes on patrol with me...unless you want to take care of her for a little while?"
"Of course, I will! No problem at all! I can work right from here, in fact."
"Great! Super. I'll catch you in a few."
Looked like his plan was working like a charm.
John set out with his radio on, just in case either Rodney or Apple needed him. Ronon joined him at the control point and they headed for the East dock, where Luis and Granger were on duty at the lookout.
"Couple of whales, sir," Luis said. "I think they were humpbacks."
"Don't tell Rodney."
"No, sir. Also, not on our watch, but says in the log that Owens saw a great white catch a sea lion."
"Great white?" Ronon leaned on the railing.
"Shark. Big-ass sea predator."
Ronon nodded, looking intrigued.
"Don't get any ideas," John said, and turned back to Luis, who looked ready to take odds on the epic Ronon versus Jaws bout. "We're more interested in ships than marine life, guys."
"Yes, sir. Just keeping our eyes busy."
"Sir, is it true you got yourself a cat?"
John frowned. "How'd you hear about that?"
"Jones got it from Al Zahrani who got it from Ramirez."
"You should know better than to believe anything out of Al Zahrani."
"Yeah, but then we checked with Ramirez and he said he'd seen it. A little gray kitten, he said."
Great. Now the entire battalion would think he was a big softie. "Yeah, I got a kitten. For pest control. Her name is Apple."
Luis' lips twitched. "Yes, sir. Cats are great for pest control."
John pointed. "You better believe it. Now back to your post."
"Yes, sir." "Yes, sir."
Ronon started laughing as soon as they were out of earshot.
John punched him. It was like hitting a brick. "She's got really sharp claws, you know."
"I know. Your face is what I'm laughing about."
"As long as it's clear."
"I'll take the North circuit this time."
"Fine. Catch you at the gate."
John could never get Ronon to stop saying "copy" even when they were face to face. "Over and out," he replied, and headed around the base of the weirdly-shaped diamond building used as a hydroponics lab.
"That was an interesting conversation," Rodney sniped in his ear, almost making John trip over his own feet.
"I forgot you were on radio," John confessed.
"I certainly hope you aren't going to train little Apple as an attack cat."
"What—no! Of course not. I just meant her natural instincts." John started sweating lightly.
"Good. I put a lot of time and care into that document, but I can tell you're going to need a lot of handholding during this process."
John clutched the top of his P90. "I suppose you might be right about that..."
"And it turns out I have a little more work to do on Atlantis than the star drive."
"Yeah? What's up." John entered the hydroponics lab and made a circuit around the grow tents. He loved the way the green plants smelled, but also what they represented in the security of growing their own resources. "Science team as bad as the marines?"
"Worse. At least marines can be trained."
Rodney cursed. "You just scared the kitten. I think she thought it was a moose attack."
"When has she ever seen a moose?"
"She could have! She could be Canadian!"
"I think you might be projecting a little."
John finished checking in with the east patrols and headed toward the transporter that would drop him on the West dock. The problem was they were basically a skeleton crew these days now that they were stationed so close to San Francisco. Everyone was either on leave or TAD until the situation with Atlantis got worked out.
"So, what's the extra work?"
"Oh, Todd has been a little cranky. He's been trying to overload the security field on the Wraith cage."
"Say what now?" John stopped where he was by a balcony. "That wasn't in the security report."
"Because it isn't yet an issue. He's been testing the field, trying to find a weak spot; there isn't any. Well, that I've found. But I want to go over it with a fine-tooth comb. Obviously, having a starving Wraith on premises would be a disaster."
"No kidding." John leaned on the balcony railing. "I told him we're sending him back. In spite of the risk to us. But I guess he doesn't believe me."
"By the signs of it, no."
"I'm almost done, here. Just have to sync up with Ronon. You staying for dinner?"
"'Kay. I'll be back in twenty."
Rodney not only waited for him, he stayed for dinner, too, when John took Apple to the mess to be ogled and pawed at by everyone. Then Teyla wanted Torren John to meet her, so they went by her and Kanaan's place for a game of Athosian pinochle, which everyone sucked at except for Kanaan.
"How can you lose us the bid three times in a row?" Rodney seethed.
"I got distracted," John said, which was only partially true. Torren John was being awful cute with Apple, laughing and clapping and trying to run away while Apple jumped and pounced and batted at him with her paws.
"Oh. That's adorable," Rodney said.
Teyla smiled and said, "I wish Dr. Zelenka were here with his camera."
"Don't encourage him. He has Lab 4 stinking of developer and fixer thanks to his obsession with classic photography when he could just go digital like every other reasonable human."
"Yet, he gave me this lovely photograph of the three of us." Teyla got up to show them a framed picture of Kanaan and Teyla holding Torren on their laps, one of Halling's colorful draperies behind them. The photo had some weird spotting but was otherwise nicely composed. John was impressed.
"Maybe I can get a portrait with Apple," John said, and Rodney side-eyed him.
Just then Apple squeaked and tore across the room, under the table, and up onto Teyla's bed, then around and back to John, where she tried to claw his leg like a tree trunk.
"Ow. Ow. Ow! Apple!" John detangled her and pulled her up by the scruff. She hung limply, her eyes closing and her mouth opening in a silent laugh. "What the heck?"
"You have so very much to learn," Rodney said. "Come on. Let's get back to your place where she can destroy your stuff instead of Teyla's."
"Thanks for the hospitality, guys," John said.
"Any time, John, Rodney," Teyla said. "Nice to meet you, Apple." Her eyes were bright as she stroked Apple's cheek.
John met her eyes and immediately had to duck his forehead to meet hers. She laughed a little. "Oh, John."
"Yeah, I know, I know." He raised his head. "See you later, Torren."
"Bye, Uncle John-o. Bye, Apple." Torren waved from the floor, where Apple had trashed his castle made of blocks.
Rodney nudged some of his blocks closer and said, "Good night, Torren."
"Bye, Uncle Rodney."
John held a squirming Apple in his arms as they walked back to his quarters. "She's feisty," he said. She calmed down as they hit the transporter, going quiet and still when the beam flashed.
"Kittens tend to be. She'll settle down when she gets older. Now, my Tiger was a real cuddle-bunny," Rodney said affectionately. "He'd just sit in my lap all day long."
John scrunched his nose. "What about work?"
"I typed around him."
John looked down at Apple, who stared up at him with her curious golden eyes. "That's not going to work for me. I'm already a lousy typist."
Apple yawned. John felt his point had been lost, somehow.
"I noticed your place is too crowded now, with all your cat furniture," Rodney said. "Also, young kittens need room to run and play." Rodney danced sideways a little, his hands gesturing. "So, ah, while you were on patrol, I found you a nice suite in the staff wing. You've been out here in the boonies for way too long, anyway."
"Hey, I like my quarters." He did. They were small and remote and nobody bothered him. He swiped a hand to let them both in and dropped Apple on the bed. She squeaked and tumbled after her favorite mouse.
Rodney's chin went stubborn and he said. "Think of Apple. She has needs. You're not living alone anymore."
What a strange thought. "I guess you're right," John said slowly. "Who do I—"
"I'll take care of it," Rodney said heartily. "You just get your things packed up." He rubbed his hands together. "We'll get Teyla, Kanaan, and Ronon to help."
"That doesn't seem fair. They don't know about the beer and pizza deal."
"You think the beer and pizza deal doesn't hold in Pegasus?"
"Huh. We'll ask."
Turned out, the beer and pizza deal was the ruus and cheeva deal in Pegasus. Basically, cheeva were burgers made from big honking steer creatures with vestigial wings. So, John arranged for beer, pizza, wine, and burgers, and then packed up, and it only took about twenty minutes for all his friends to haul his belongings down the hall and through the transporter to his new quarters. Apple spent moving time locked in the bathroom due to her escape artist tendencies—twice, so far, she'd gotten out and rabbited down the hallway only to be found trapped, crying, in the transporter or a closet.
But she settled into the new place happy as can be, zipping around to sniff every corner and seek out every crevice to hide in.
"Don't you have a cat? I'd swear you have a cat," Rodney declared after the food and drink had been consumed and everyone had cleared out.
"She's around here somewhere," John said, lazy on one beer too many. He lay on the living room floor, rubbed his belly, and contemplated chewing on another slice of pizza. Bad idea if he planned to run with Ronon tomorrow. He again thought about finding a geezer for a partner. Maybe O'Neill would be up for it.
"Here girl. Here little one," Rodney said, dangling the mouse on a wire in front of gap under John's couch. A claw shot out and grabbed at the mouse, and Rodney sat on his butt in surprise and started giggling. "Oh, my God. She's so cute. Did you see that?"
"Yup." John couldn't ask for more than this moment, right here. Maybe it was the beer talking, or maybe the ruus, but he could die happy right now.
"Boy, I'm beat." Rodney yawned. "Where are your extra blankets? Still in a box?"
"I only need what I've got." John's new bed was huge compared to his old one, already made up neat with tucked corners.
Rodney rolled his eyes. "For me, dodo bird. It's too late to head back to my apartment."
"Oh, right." John ducked his head. "I've only got one little blanket and pillow Torren uses when he stays over."
"Find me the pillow. I guess you and I will be doubling up." Rodney avoided his eye.
John hid his reaction by going to search in the boxes he'd shoved in the walk-in closet, stuff he'd threw in there for dealing with later. Boy, wasn't that the story of his life. He heard Rodney puttering around in the bathroom, and thought he might die a little. This wasn't offworld in a tent with Ronon and Teyla sprawled out next to them snoring up a storm. The quiet was oppressive as John plopped Torren's pillow down next to his and threw the small blanket over on right side of the bed in case Rodney needed it.
A small gray blur pounced on the tassels at the edge of the blanket and tried to kill them.
"Apple, no," John said, his laughter robbing his words of any authority. "C'mere, you little punk." He wrestled the edge of the soft blanket over her and then poked softly, jumping when her little paws lunged to try to trap his hand through the blanket. "Oh, you're a vicious beast, all right. Look at you. Look at you." John heard a soft chuckle and turned toward the bathroom door.
Rodney leaned there in a T-shirt and boxers, a soft smile on his face. John grinned back involuntarily.
"She's got you wrapped around her finger," Rodney said. "I never would have believed it."
John felt a soft paw wrap around his wrist, and smiled ruefully as he hauled her into his lap to pet her soft fur. "I didn't realize I was such a sucker."
"No, I like it," Rodney said. "I mean, sorry. I'm not trying to imply you're not...that you're some kind of heartless..." Rodney bit his lip.
"Keep digging." John flipped Apple onto her back and started rubbing her under her chin. He'd discovered when she was in the wrong mood, this would result in his instant dismemberment, but if she was in a good mood, like right now, she'd close her eyes and happily let him comb the soft fur of her throat and chest.
"Will she let you touch her belly?" Rodney asked in a hushed voice.
"Let's see." John rubbed his knuckles even lower and she just lolled her head back, limp as a noodle, and let her rub her soft belly fur. Rodney made a soft "oh!" sound that raised the hair on John's neck.
"Here," John said. "You take her." He passed her off as gently as he could, and she only squeaked a little in protest as Rodney cradled her.
"She doesn't meow much," John complained. "She just squeaks. Am I doing something wrong?"
Rodney grinned down as he petted her. "It just means she's a squeaker. Some cats never learn to meow. Meowing has always been considered more a human than cat language, anyway."
"Huh. So, you're just stubborn, is that it, Squeaker?"
Apple didn't respond, unless the purrs meant something. Probably, they meant Apple was as besotted with Rodney as John was.
It almost physically hurt to leave them to go take care of his nighttime routine, but he got up and stowed his sidearm in his boot and placed them with his pants at ready by the bedroom door, then went and took a quick shower and put on a fresh T-shirt and shorts for no reason whatsoever. Well, the move made him sweaty, that was all.
By the time he was done, it was dead quiet in suite. Rodney had passed out in bed on his front with little Apple curled up next to his shoulder. John hit the light and tugged up the sheet to slide in next to them.
"Huh? What?" Rodney pushed up on one arm. Apple puffed in indignation at losing her cozy spot.
"It's okay." John leaned over and patted his shoulder, then petted Apple for good measure. "Go back to sleep."
"John. Hey." Rodney smacked his lips together. John could barely make out his profile in the faint moonlight. "Didn't want to miss it."
"You haven't missed anything." John petted Rodney again, just to be fair. "Go to sleep. We'll be here in the morning."
John lay down and listened to their soft breaths until he went out like a light.
John was awoken by the sound of Apple galloping back and forth between the bedroom and the living room. Her tiny paws resounded like thunder on Atlantis' smooth metal floors.
"Oh, my God. Note to self: never mix ruus with IPA."
"I told you as much last night, but did you listen?" Rodney's voice was never especially soft, but today it seemed louder than usual.
"Noooo, I didn't. Bad me." John tried to squeeze his brain matter back in via his temples.
"Here." Rodney handed him a blister pack. "Courtesy of Dr. Bartoli."
"I think I love her." John downed the pills dry.
"And a cup of coffee from me."
John took a long sip and smiled up at him. "But I love you better."
Rodney blinked then looked away, red painting his ears.
"Rodney," John said slowly, putting the coffee down.
Apple chose that moment to come tearing back to the bedroom, where she tried unsuccessfully to hop onto the bed. She scrabbled at the edge of the mattress until Rodney boosted her up, then she played it off like she wasn't even sure she wanted to be there. Rodney wriggled a hand at her and she trotted over and nudged her face into his palm.
"She really likes you." John chest was fit to burst.
"Well, I really like her," Rodney said, sounding a little defensive.
"Hey, I'm glad you guys like each other." John reached out and his fingers tangled a little with Rodney's in Apple's soft, fine fur. John let it happen, rubbed his fingertips behind Apple's head and down her back, bumping intentionally against Rodney's hand over and over.
Rodney didn't pull away. He didn't look up, he just kept petting Apple, petting John's hand, giving John shivers that had nothing to do with Apple's happy purrs, until finally John couldn't take it anymore, and he pulled back. Rodney still wouldn't look at him, and John was no good at this.
"Rodney, are you—?"
"I'm moving back to Atlantis," Rodney said abruptly, almost angrily.
"And I'll need living quarters."
John nodded. "Of course, we'll—"
"Good, spacious quarters; not cramped and dark like my old ones."
Apple pounced on John's knee, knocking him out of his epiphany. "You could always move in here," he said breathlessly.
"Could I? That would be great." The bastard had the audacity to sound surprised and happy.
"Why, you sneak."
Rodney finally looked up. He didn't look sneaky. He looked scared. Terrified.
Awkwardly, John reached for his hand. "Jesus, Rodney, you have to know I'd do anything for you, I'd...for fuck's sake, I adopted a kitten. What the fuck do I know about cats?"
"You...you got Apple for me?"
"Yes! I mean, she kind of suckered me in after I met her."
Rodney smiled, lopsided and bashful. "I'll bet she did. Didn't you, little one?"
Apple looked up from her fierce battle with the bedsheet to accept the head scratch.
"So, you'll move in?"
"Depends. How married are you to that Johnny Cash poster?" Rodney waved his hand above the bed.
"Oh, you can just forget all about that idea," John said, pulling Rodney down onto the bed. Apple squeaked and then wisely jumped down and out of the way as John wrestled a giggling Rodney into the perfect position for kissing.
John looked down into Rodney's blushing face and finally, finally got to kiss him. Slow, soft kisses at first, because Rodney was still wide-eyed and John was in a little bit of shock, but then deeper and wetter, holding Rodney's hot face between his palms and watching his eyes dilate.
"Say I can keep Johnny," John said around twenty minutes later, when both of them were rock hard and John was seriously considering radioing in sick.
Rodney batted at his shoulder. "You're not that good a kisser." But Rodney's restless hips totally said he was lying. John grinned and was bending to try again when his goddamned radio went off, chirping the emergency tone.
"Sorry," he said, and rolled to get it off the side stand.
"Sir, there's been a breach in the Wraith cage! Todd is loose."
"What the hell!" John sat up and gestured to Rodney. "Todd is loose. Lorne, who've you got on it? Does Ronon know? Over."
"Goddamnit. I knew it. I knew I should have gone over the protocols sooner," Rodney muttered, while Lorne filled John in.
"Ronon is already tracking him. We have four teams doing a grid search and more on the way from the SGC. We won't let him get anywhere, sir."
"No, we sure the hell won't. He's not getting off Atlantis." John rose and grabbed his sidearm and pulled his pants on. He heard Rodney talking on his radio to Radek about an issue with the lifesigns detector. John had one foot in his boot and was starting to strap on his holster when he heard a grinding sound from the living room and then an unholy hissing and a screech.
John rounded the corner to the living room to find Todd the Wraith hunched over with Apple clinging to his face, both of them hissing and then Todd started howling.
John almost froze, but instinct had him pulling his sidearm just as Todd flung Apple off him. John reached him fast and shoved the muzzle of his P-14 to the back of Todd's head, grabbing his hair and pulling the trigger at the same time, once-twice, hanging on against the recoil.
Todd's weight pulled John down but he kept firing just in case—who knew, with a ten-thousand-year-old Wraith, whether a couple of headshots would be enough, and Rodney and Apple were—she was silent. God, he hoped she was okay.
"John. John, come on." That was Rodney. Thank God.
"It's done, Sheppard. You can let up," Ronon said.
John responded automatically, pulling back. His hands ached and were covered with gore. He winced and wiped his hands on his pants, stumbling backward into Ronon's arms. Ronon hauled him to his feet, taking his sidearm and tucking it back in his holster.
"Good job," Ronon said gruffly.
"Apple caught him off guard. Apple! Where is she?" John spun around. "Todd threw her—"
"She's right here, John. She's fine," Rodney said, handing her over, and there she was, there they both were, safe and sound, and Todd was dead; the threat was gone. John took Apple's small, trembling body into his hands and cradled her close, nuzzling her with his face.
"Good job, little one." John looked up at Ronon. "She kicked his ass. Scratched his face off."
"Little predator," Ronon said with great satisfaction. He stepped back just as Lorne and a team of marines rushed into the suite.
"A little late there, Evan." John laughed shakily. Jesus.
"Looks like you didn't need us." Lorne looked down and winced with disgust. "Did a pretty thorough job there."
"Yeah." John looked down. He couldn't believe Todd was dead; on the other hand, it had been a long time coming. "Get a body bag and take him to the morgue, would you, fellas?"
"Yes, sir. Right away." Lorne and the marines didn't even look sideways at McKay in his shorts, they just about-faced and left.
Ronon did give them both a raised eyebrow that spoke to expecting the full story later, possibly with interpretive dance.
"See you later." Ronon clapped John on the shoulder.
"Yeah, thanks, Ronon." John followed him to the door, wincing when he saw the damage Todd had done forcing his way in.
"I'd say that was pretty convenient," Rodney said, coming back from the bathroom. He drew John into the bedroom and closed the door, then made him put Apple down and started cleaning John's hands with a damp washcloth. John was still shaking enough to just let him. It felt really nice. He looked at Rodney's worried frown and moved closer.
"What was convenient? Not Todd?"
Rodney glared. "Of course, not. I'll admit the situation with Todd was awkward, but we still were going to release him. He just didn't trust us. I'm guessing he planned to grab you and force you to fly him somewhere, either on Earth or a different planet in the Milky Way."
"It was his bad luck Apple was here to defend you, and you were there to defend her. He didn't stand a chance. Also, you might not know it, but I was ready to brain him with my laptop as backup."
"I bet you were, buddy."
"Well, it was plan B. But what was convenient was Lorne and a bunch of marines accidentally catching me in my shorts leaving your bedroom."
"Oh, heh. Yeah, no need to write an announcement with marine radio in action." John took the damp washcloth and chucked it into the bathroom.
Rodney tsked. "If that's the kind of roommate you propose to be..."
"I'm a terrific roommate," John said, wrapping his arms around Rodney's waist and pulling him closer.
"You're handsy, is what you are."
John squeezed his handfuls, and Rodney made an awesome squeaky sound. "Hey, you're a squeaker too. Just like Apple."
"Oh, shut up."
John shut up and got to the kissing. This time, Apple wisely didn't interrupt them.
Four marines did, knocking on the door with a body bag.
"I'm never going to get laid," Rodney groaned in protest.
But for a guy with blue balls, John was pretty happy.
January 11, 2020
San Francisco, CA