It was a long, frustrating trip back to Toronto from Cheyenne Mountain. By the time they landed, Rodney had decided that next time, he and John were flying first class and Madison would be duct-taped to one of the wings. She finally fell asleep somewhere over Lake Erie, which gave them all a respite. They'd been up far too late the evening before, talking about logistics, talking about feasibility, talking about... well, actually talking about feelings and that was the absolute pits.
Rodney felt he owed John a bit of credit because he knew (oh, how well he knew!) how hard it was for John to actually face his feelings, let alone talk about them. It was hard for Rodney too, but apparently it was an order of magnitude worse for John. Some day, Rodney was going to tie John down and torture him until he confessed what had happened to make him so closed off, even to himself.
Hmmm... Tie John down... that actually had potential.
It was after dark by the time they finally got home, wired and exhausted. Incapable of facing the kitchen, Rodney just sent out for pizza, which they ate in silence, aside from the occasional sluggish comment. They could afford to relax a bit, the urgency was reduced now that the supergate was out of commission. Rodney was incredibly glad for that and not just because it made Earth a little safer -- he needed more time to find someone replace him at the university as well as figure out what they needed to take with them if they moved, lock, stock and barrel, to Atlantis. The list in his head was beginning to reach epic proportions.
All three of them merely collapsed on their beds that night; Rodney even let Madison off the hook for a bath. The next day was Sunday, and he knew they'd have a ton of things to accomplish. It turned out John had his own list of Things That Have To Be Done If We're Going To Live in Atlantis, and there wasn't much difference between the two. There were even a few things on his that weren't on Rodney's list, including orthodontia, which made Rodney want to spasm in pain.
John spent two days at the Phelps School, talking with the advisors and Madison's tutors. Using the generic excuse Rodney had used at university (they may be taking jobs that would require all three of them to live outside Canada), he asked for help in designing her curricula so that they'd be able to do it, if necessary. Luckily for them, most of the textbooks needed for Madison's education were books Rodney had on-hand. And no, as he told Sheppard, there wasn't anything at all peculiar about that.
They were going to have to rent one entire trip from the Daedalus or the Odyssey in order to get all the stuff they'd have to move. But at least the piano wasn't going anywhere -- John bought a full-sized electronic keyboard. And an Xbox. Sheppard really needed to learn how to prioritize better.
Rodney's days were spent fighting with Carol Edwards over turf and trying like hell to find a replacement for himself. Colette was, as usual, her normal efficient help. He trusted her enough to make the first cut, and she didn't let him down. Though she did give him a surprise.
"So, this job, this place," she asked, shortly after they'd gotten back from Cheyenne Mountain, "it's not in the USA?"
"No," Rodney said, distracted. She'd brought him some faxes and he was trying to figure out which file they went into. "It's a bit further than that."
"Will you ever get to... you know, come back? For a visit?"
Abruptly, Rodney realized what she was asking. He blinked up at her. "You're actually going to miss me? Should I call the psych department?"
She shrugged, but Rodney noted she didn't look directly at him. "Stranger things have happened, Doc. You keep me busy, you might be a pain in my ass at times but you're never condescending unless it's about work and never in front of other people, so... yeah." Her mouth turned up at one corner. "I hate having to break in a new boss, you know? Hell, if I could, I'd come with you wherever you're going."
Rodney had a vision of efficient, practical, amazingly multi-talented Colette on Atlantis. "If I could, I'd take you with me," he said sincerely. "I'm going to miss you." If he thought it would fly, he'd send an email to Carter, asking her to do the initial background check. But Colette was good people, she didn't deserve to be ripped away from Earth just because she was efficient. Unfortunately.
It turned out the ballet recital, originally slated for the Saturday they left for Cheyenne Mountain, had been postponed. Someone was pregnant or had a baby or some damn thing -- it had been postponed to two weeks after they got home. Madison transported with joy when told that. At John's instigation, Rodney made sure to clear his calendar for that Saturday, even though Rodney would have preferred being Wraith bait to going to a ballet recital.
A couple of days after that came Hallowe'en, and though they really didn't 'celebrate' it, Madison had been invited to a party and it involved costumes. John and Rodney drew the line at sewing, so John took her out and somehow found her the most adorably nauseating princess outfit ever made. It was all in pink with pink and white sparkles and even came with a plastic, sparkly 'tiara' and matching scepter. Madison was quite put out that she couldn't wear it all the time, even while asleep.
"A princess, Three-M?" Rodney asked, almost overcome with disgust. "You couldn't be someone special, like Marie Curie?"
"Nope nope nope," she said, shoveling her macaroni and cheese casserole down as she shook her head. She wasn't wearing the costume but did have the tiara on, and the scepter was right next to her plate. "Marie Curie is boring."
"Then how about a real princess," John tried, though he'd told Rodney he'd pretty much given in to the pinkness. "Like... Xena! Or even Leia Organa?"
The look she gave John could have melted plastic. "Puh-leeeze. A real princess gots all the power. I wanna be better than presidents, kings, all of them guys. I wanna be able to make men go all gooey-eyed and fainty when they see me. I wanna make them give me stuffs for free. When I grow up, I wanna be..." she put her fork down and raised her scepter. "I wanna be a bimbo."
Luckily neither Rodney nor John were eating when she came out with this statement. In fact, John started laughing, helplessly. "You gotta chase your dreams, baby," he said and Madison started laughing with him. Rodney knew he was missing something, but decided discretion was the better part of valor and just concentrated on eating.
Just a few days before the recital (and four before Hallowe'en would be past and Rodney figured he could burn the princess costume), Rodney took the afternoon off to wait for a package from the SGC. John had gone to pick up Madison from school and Rodney was trying to get some work done when someone knocked. He thought it was the courier service, but instead, it was a conservatively dressed woman with a large valise over her shoulder.
"Yes? You're not from the courier service?"
She smiled. "No. I'm Regina Albrecht from the Department of Justice, Child Protective Services. May I come in?"
Rodney stood aside, blinking in surprise. "Uh... certainly." Okay, this was weird. "Can I ask...?"
She turned and smiled at him. "Could we sit and talk? I'll explain everything."
He motioned her into the living room, which was its usual disaster. He hastily cleared off the sofa and moved a pile of Legos under the chair. "Sorry, I wasn't... we weren't..."
"Please, it's fine. First off, here's my card, you'll need to keep it. And my identification." She pulled a small wallet from her bag, opened it and handed it to Rodney. "There has been a complaint of child neglect or endangerment against you, Dr. McKay. I'm here to investigate that."
Rodney's eyes widened as her words sunk in. "A complaint of what?"
She smiled and it was a very professional smile. "You understand that whenever we get such a complaint, we are bound by law to investigate it regardless of who is accused. We must put the children first." She paused and smiled again. Rodney thought he must look like a fish on land. "What I will do here is a home visit, where I will look at your entire house, including any basements or attics. Then I will visit with..." She looked down at a clipboard she'd removed from her bag, "Madison, yes? Your niece."
"Yes, I don't... this doesn't make sense. Who...?"
"I'm afraid I can't divulge that information, Dr. McKay. Where is Madison now?"
"She's at school," Rodney replied. "Where else would she be? And I really--"
"I understand, Dr. McKay, but this doesn't have to be a chore, we can finish much more quickly if you just follow along. Despite the wording of the allegation, no one is actually accusing you of anything. As I said, any time we get any allegation, we must follow up on it."
Rodney's head was whirling so fast he was surprised his brain wasn't leaking out of his ears. God, he wished John were home, John would know what to do, was always better thinking on his feet than Rodney could ever hope to be. But John wouldn't be back for another half an hour or so.
"Now then. Madison does not go to public school, does she?"
"No. She's at Phelps. She's a genius, you know, and needed a specialized curriculum."
"Oh, she is?" She made a mark on her clipboard. "We'll be visiting the school later in the week. Now..."
Rodney followed the woman in a daze as she poked and prodded in every nook and cranny of his house -- even into the refrigerator and freezer. She went into the basement, which was half finished and completely crammed with stuff, and wanted to know if Madison ever went there, as if he'd kept Madison locked up down there or something. She looked into the garage and inquired about the power tools and other equipment, most of which was John's. She went into Madison's room and asked about the books. Then she asked yet another personal question and Rodney began to figure it out.
"I understand you and Madison are not the only ones living here," she said and he suddenly realized where they'd been headed all along and knew, without a doubt, who had made the allegation of 'child abuse.'
"No, we're not." Well, he certainly wasn't going to make it easy on her.
"There is another adult?"
"And how is this person related to you and Madison?"
For once in his life, Rodney managed to catch his mouth before it ran away from him, yet again. "He is not related by blood." There, let her ask the rest of it.
She didn't. "Ah." She smiled and made another notation on her clipboard. "And how does he interact with Madison? Are they alone together, frequently?"
"Of course they are," Rodney said, keeping his temper back with effort. That old bitch was not going to win this one, even if it meant increasing Rodney's precarious high blood pressure. "He's picking her up from school now," he said, pleased to be keeping his voice from a snarl, "and he drives her to school every day as well and yes, she always wears her seatbelt. On days when she has no school, he's with her the entire time. I most certainly trust him because he loves Madison almost as much as I do, maybe more, and she calls him Uncle John, just as she calls me Uncle Rod-- Uncle Meredith."
She didn't even bat an eye. "Is your relationship to this person formal or informal? In other words, if you share a bed, how do you explain the relationship you have with this man to Madison?"
Rodney gritted his teeth. "Madison loves both of us and, as I've said, she calls us both uncle. She knows we love each other and both love her."
Albrecht smiled and looked down. "I understand, Dr. McKay, it just that children need structure--"
"If you're implying that we would... what, hold orgies in the living room or sell her into the white slave market--"
"I can't believe anyone would say--"
"And furthermore, I know who made this allegation, and if you want to explore child abuse or endangerment, you should look into the way my sister and I were raised, and I will see her in hell before I let my mother get her hooks into Madison." She was giving him an odd frown but wasn't trying to interrupt again, at least. "It's a miracle Jeannie and I made it through childhood sane, because of that old bi-- woman," he finished. He realized his hands were closed into fists and consciously relaxed them.
"Dr. McKay." She steered them into the living room and gently pushed him to a seat while she sat on the couch. "There is no real statute of limitations on child abuse, Dr. McKay. I think I understand what you're saying, but at this point in time, the discussion is not about you. It's about Madison. And if you love her as much as I think you do, you'll understand why I have to be intrusive into your personal life as well as your public life."
Rodney looked away, almost ashamed because he realized that yes, of course she was right. And if someone had made allegations about any child, he'd be certain an investigation would be forthcoming. Immediately.
"To continue," she said, her soft, bland voice beginning to really grate on Rodney's nerves, "could I have the name of this person who lives with you and Madison?"
"John Sheppard." He would not grind his teeth, he would not. "John was in the U.S. military as a Lieutenant Colonel but was recently discharged. Honorably. He and I will be returning to a position outside the country, and yes, Madison will be going with us, we've been working towards it for some time. If you want a background check, you don't have to look far, since the position we've had is with a multi-national consortium which includes Canada."
"I see." She was making notes at a furious pace. "And Madison will be going with you?"
"Yes, I believe I said that."
"And where is this place? Will there be other children and adequate instruction there?"
"Well, I can't tell you where it is," Rodney said, his brain churning at a hundred miles per hour, "it's, you know, classified. I'd have to kill you, that kind of thing. And there are other children, an indigenous population. We're already looking into her schooling, with the help of the tutors at Phelps."
"And she's aware of this upcoming move?"
"Yes, well, no, we haven't actually set a date, but yes, she knows we're working towards it."
"And who will be Madison's guardian in the event you should become incapacitated at any time while you are away from Canada?"
Rodney gaped for a moment -- damn, he hadn't thought about adding that one to the list, and he bet John hadn't either. "Oh. Well, it won't be a problem, since... we're getting married. John and I. Before we go." Oh, shit. Had he really said that out loud?
He must have, because her face broke into a smile. "That's wonderful news, congratulations. You do realize I will have to do a background check on him as well, in consideration of the allegations."
"Of course. Yes. I understand." Oh shit, fuck and a lot of other words he couldn't say out loud. John was going to kill him.
"And I will have to speak with Madison in private, away from the influence of either of you."
"I..." He heard a very familiar sound, the truck's engine. Oh, God. John. "I think they're home," he said weakly.
She smiled. "That's good timing." Yes, Rodney thought, as long as John doesn't...
He heard them long before the door opened. John was laughing and had Madison over one shoulder, she was shrieking in laughter and yanking on his belt. "Hey, Rodney, I found this sack of..." he paused, taking in the tableau. "Um..." He let Maddie slide down his torso, carefully. "We've got company?"
Madison was still giggling and clinging to John's leg. He reached down and rubbed his knuckles over her head. "Hey, Beav. We've got company," he repeated, softly.
She turned her wide, happy eyes to the living room. When she spotted Albrecht, she stopped giggling and ducked her head behind John's leg, suddenly shy. Rodney didn't doubt for a minute she'd already picked up on the tension between himself and Albrecht. "This is Ms. Albrecht, she's from the Child Protection Agency or something like that."
John gaped. "From where?"
Albrecht stood. "Hello, you must be Mr. Sheppard. I'm Regina Albrecht from the Department of Justice, Child Protective Services. And this must be Miss Miller." She smiled down at Madison who was still hiding behind John's leg.
"What's going on here?" John asked, frowning.
"What does that mean?" Madison asked, looking up at Albrecht. "What you are, I mean."
"It means a lot of things," Albrecht said before Rodney could speak. "I work for the government, helping to protect children. I get to meet a lot of kids, some of them really hurting for one reason or another. If they are, then I get to make sure they don't hurt any more."
"Oh." Madison looked up at John and at Rodney, who had come to stand next to John.
"Ms. Albrecht needs to talk to you, Madison," Rodney said. All that practice at keeping his voice low and controlled definitely paid off. "You want to show her your room?"
Albrecht held out her hand, and after checking with Rodney and John, Madison took it. "My room's over here," she said, obviously still wary.
As soon as they were out of the living room, John rounded on Rodney. "What the hell...?"
Rodney closed his eyes and leaned into John. "A complaint of child abuse or endangerment," he whispered, in a choked voice. "Somebody filed an allegation against me of child abuse..."
"What?" John nearly shouted. "Who? What the fuck--"
"It was her, my darling Mommy Dearest," Rodney said. The bitterness tasted like sand in his mouth. "I know it was her. She would do anything..."
"You must be joking, tell me this is all a joke," John asked, pleaded.
"No, no joke." Rodney burrowed deeper into John's embrace. "She's been here for close to an hour, looking at every nook and cranny in this place. Asking all these personal questions, about me, about you, about how we have orgies every Tuesday and are pimping my only niece out to the highest bidder..."
John wrapped both arms around Rodney and squeezed. "Jesus. You sure it was her? I mean, you told me about her, but this is... I don't know, a bit overboard?"
"It's her. I know it." Rodney had to fight to keep from shaking, to keep his voice low. "And we forgot something on both lists, which is who's going to be Madison's guardian if I become 'incapacitated' which is a nice way of saying 'killed' while we're in Atlantis and I will not allow my mother to..."
"No, no, we'll figure something out," John whispered. He patted Rodney's back. "But you're right, I forgot completely..."
They stood there, in the messy living room, while a woman neither of them knew was with Madison, asking her personal questions, probably hearing all about the stargate and Atlantis and thank God for six year olds with a strong imagination.
There was a knock at the door, startling both of them. Rodney turned. "It's the courier, I think."
It was, and allowed them to have a brief respite from drama. It turned out to be two packages, one for each of them. They had to sign and show ID, so it was a good thing John had returned when he did. The packages went into the den, unopened, then John went to the kitchen and turned the oven on. Rodney followed him, unwilling to let John out of his sight for some damn reason which was not because he was feeling insecure.
Just as John pitched the fake-meatloaf part of their supper into the oven, Albrecht came out of Madison's room, laughing at something Madison had either shown her or told her. "Unca John! Ms. Albrecht likes engines too!" she said, then did her usual slam into Rodney's legs. "Are you home early? What's for dinner? Can we hav--"
"It's not pizza night, Three-M," Rodney said automatically. John came over, slung one arm around his shoulder, made a united front. "Are we done here?" he asked Albrecht.
She smiled. "Yes, I would say I'm done, thank you for your cooperation, Dr. McKay, Mr. Sheppard. I will of course let you know the results of the investigation, but I believe I can assure you everything is fine, and the allegation unfounded." She winked at Madison. "I'd love to see you as the flower girl in their wedding," she said and Rodney winced. "You should send me a picture."
"Okey-dokey!" Madison said. She peeled herself away from Rodney, tentatively offering her hand. "It was nice to meetcha." Both Rodney and John grinned at that.
John showed her out while Madison sat at the table. "When's dinner?"
"You are a bottomless pit," Rodney said, so relieved he felt dizzy. "What did you do in school today? Do you have homework?"
She did have homework, most of which was centered around the piano. Rodney allowed her equal time on the piano as the TV, and she crowed in delight as she headed for the living room.
John returned, his face carefully blank. "Flower girl? Is that the reason why that woman congratulated me on my good fortune before she left, hopefully forever?"
Rodney sighed and just about fell on one of the chairs around the kitchen table. "Here we go. I said it, I told her we were getting married because she brought up the whole guardian thing, and besides that, she made it sound like we were incredible perverts for living together in sin, or some weird kind of--"
"Rodney." Rodney broke off and sighed again. He couldn't bring himself to meet John's eyes, though, even as John continued. "It's okay. I guess I'm still in shock that someone--"
"Not someone, one very particular person," Rodney said, and he felt his blood pressure begin to rise again. "I need Ronon here to go kill that evil, meddling bitch..."
John snorted and took the chair opposite Rodney's. "I still can't believe she'd be so vindictive..."
"Believe it." Rodney took a deep breath and made himself look up at John. "I'm sorry, you know, about the whole wedding thing, I just panicked, I guess."
"It really is okay," John said, his mouth turning up into a wry grin. "It's mostly for Madison--" John interrupted himself, sitting up straight. "Wait." He blinked at Rodney. "It is a good idea. If we do get married, you know, legally married here in Canada, wouldn't I automatically be considered her co-guardian or something? As your spouse? Or... wouldn't that mean I could adopt her?
Rodney's jaw dropped. "I... I don't know, I never thought..."
John shook his head, his expression admiring. "Actually, we both could adopt her, couldn't we? Especially if we're, you know, married?"
"We might," Rodney replied, thinking fast. "I need to call that attorney... what's his name, Tucker? Drucker? The guy who helped me out the first time. He's expensive but he's good."
"Yes, good is good, and I'll help, since I've still got money to burn."
"Not for long at the rate you're going!" Rodney said, though his mood was considerably lighter.
"Sure I do. Though I already put a big chunk aside for Madison's college tuition," John added, and Rodney could swear the man was sheepish in the way he ducked his head.
He didn't know from sheepish. Rodney rolled his eyes to the ceiling. "We'll, uh, want to combine the funds, then..." he said, waiting for it.
He didn't have to wait long. "You already set aside...?"
"Yeah. Where did you think the money disappeared to?" Rodney said, trying to keep his voice from sounding defensive. It didn't work. "Between the lawyer's fees, buying this house, the Prius, and the huge contribution to UT, there wasn't a whole hell of a lot left, but I socked it away anyway."
John grinned and Rodney felt his own face splitting into a smile. "We can combine them, then, shouldn't be hard," John said. "You always think on your feet, you always come up with a plan, the right plan to get us out of trouble." His grin modified into something both loving and proud. "I really ought to know better than to doubt you, especially by now." He reached across the table to touch Rodney's hand. "I might not be able to, you know, say the words, I mean... well, you know which ones, but I do trust you, Rodney. And I think I never really stopped. I'm sorry about everything that happened. I was a jerk."
"You do? You trust me?" Rodney was certain his face had an extremely sappy look on it, but he didn't care. John trusted him, again. He'd finally earned that back, and he hadn't had a clue how important that would be for him, for them. Even if John couldn't... "Hey, wait."
"I did what?"
"You know, say those words that always make you stammer like an idiot when you think about them."
John blinked. "No, I didn't. I did? No, I didn't. When?"
"Just before you left for the mountain. While you were on the phone with me." Rodney had to laugh at the expression on John's face. "You did and you don't remember it, do you?"
"It's okay," Rodney said, leaning in. "I feel the same way." Then he kissed John and figured everything would be fine.
The ballet recital was an exercise in torture, at least for Rodney. John elbowed him in the ribs every time Rodney was beginning to feel that Madison was actually pretty adorable up there with all the other miniature ballerinas. It was tough, but he held on to his disdain.
The fun really started the day before Hallowe'en. They'd just finished dinner and were talking as they cleaned the kitchen when Rodney's cell phone went off. He went to answer it while Madison and John discussed Fibonacci numbers.
He didn't recognize the number. "McKay."
"Hi, Rodney, it's Sam." The connection was filled with static. "Can you go stand somewhere in your house where there's room for two people to beam down?"
To beam...? Crap. "You're in orbit?" He turned and walked into his office-den. There was enough space there, barely.
"Yeah, we just got back from Atlantis and have yet more paperwork and other things. Are you in the spot?"
"I am. Plot it, I'll make sure to keep it empty as possible." He backed up a few steps. "I'm clear."
With an eye-blinding flash of white, Carter and Jackson arrived. They both carried soft valises stuffed with paper. "I can't believe you're using the Odyssey's beaming capability just to visit," Rodney said, shaking his head.
Carter laughed. "Well, it's easier than flying, especially lately!"
"That's for sure," Jackson added.
"I've got some more paperwork for you and John," Carter said, reaching into her valise. "And Daniel has a puzzle..."
"I think it's a puzzle, we have at least some of the pieces but still don't know what the puzzle is about."
"And you need my help?"
"No, actually," Jackson said, looking down as if embarrassed. "Um... I was hoping to talk to Madison about it? If it's okay with you?"
Rodney gaped at them. "Madison?"
"Yeah, you know how you told me you think she can see in more than four dimensions?" Carter said, looking a little embarrassed, "Well..."
As they talked, they walked out of the room which, apparently, was how they got John's and Madison's attention. "SAM!" Madison shrieked, launching herself at Carter, who laughed and hugged her.
"Hey, what about me?" Jackson said in a plaintive voice.
"Daniel!" she squealed, hugging him too. "How did you get here without knocking?"
"We used the transporters on the Odyssey," Carter told her. "Just popped right into good ol' Uncle Meredith's office." The grin she flashed him was pure mischief.
Rodney rolled his eyes. "I was going to ask you if you wanted food, but now, forget it."
"Wait, food? Real food? Not food that comes in a bag or is freeze-dried? Food that smells like what I smell?" Jackson looked so pathetically eager Rodney had to relent.
"We've got a lot of leftovers, it's just a casserole," John said with a glance at Rodney. "C'mon, I'll re-heat it."
"Hey! I was going to take those leftovers for my lunch!"
"I'll make you another one, Rodney," John tossed back over his shoulder as he headed for the kitchen.
Madison was clinging to Sam's arm like she was surgically attached and was talking a mile a minute. When they hit the kitchen, Rodney grabbed her head, stopping her. "Madison."
"And then I--"
Carter finally grinned down at her. "Maddie, your uncle wants you."
Madison gave Rodney the puppy-eyed look that no longer worked. "You told me you've got homework, how much do you have?" Rodney asked. Homework came first.
"Um... linear math and... and..." She screwed up her forehead in thought. "Oh! And I got to work on the fugue. Will you help me with it?"
"Yes, I will," Rodney said, hauling her back from Carter's side. "The operative word being 'help.' Please go get your math homework done--"
"No, no buts. Get your math homework done, I'll check it, then we can spend a little time on the piano while we feed the bottomless pits of your friends' stomachs. After that, you can visit all you'd like."
The pout wasn't all that obvious and she did immediately turn and head for her room, so Rodney figured she was going to follow directions for once.
"And you can show me the princess dress then, too," Carter called after her, and Madison let out one squeal of "Yay!" before disappearing into her room.
"Don't encourage her," Rodney said, sitting at the table with them. John had re-heated the casserole and was dishing it out.
"Oh, come on, Rodney, every little girl deserves to be a princess at least once in her life." Carter said sniffing the aroma of John's special chicken-rice casserole like it was fine wine.
"Hey, Sam, whatever happened to that harem girl outfit you had to wear from--"
"Shut up, Daniel," Carter replied, digging into her food with her fork.
Rodney blinked, surprised. "Wait a minute. How did you know about that stupid princess dress?"
Carter looked confused. "She emailed me, she's had my email address for a couple of weeks. Why?"
John winced. "Did I forget to mention that I set up an email address for her?"
Rodney sighed. Great. Madison with an email address. "Yes, you did. Some husband you're going to make."
"Hey, at least I can cook," John said, defensively. He opened four beers and passed them out before sitting at the table, opposite Rodney.
Jackson scooped a forkful of food into his mouth and nodded enthusiastically. "S'good," he mumbled.
"Thanks." John had that insufferable look patented. "Made it myself."
"Wait a minute," Carter said, swallowing her own bite. "Husband? There's something going on here."
Rodney looked across the table at John, who shrugged. "Well, yes, there is. Due to some..." He let his voice fade for a moment while he tried to think what to say and how to say it. He took a deep breath and continued. "Due to some circumstances we're really not interested in discussing," not on a full stomach, at least, "we're going to get married, civil partnership, you know, get the paper and all. It's mostly for Madison."
"We had a... wake-up call," John said, picking up the thread. "of sorts. We realized that if we go to Atlantis and something happens to Rodney, Madison won't have a legal guardian -- well, one we approve of."
Both Carter and Jackson blinked. "God, I never thought of that," Carter breathed, her eyes wide.
"Yeah," Rodney nodded. It was a shock to realize. There was so much more to do when children were around, something they'd never really contemplated. "So we'll get the paper, then John can get Canadian citizenship--"
"Which should be a snap, since I'm marrying one," John interrupted with a smile. "Voluntarily, I might add."
"Yes, of course," Rodney replied, rolling his eyes. "Then John's going to legally adopt Madison. According to our lawyer, it should be very quick--"
"Which still means close to a year, unfortunately."
"Yeah, but that really is quick," Jackson said, nodding. "I've seen this stuff drag on for years and years."
"I remember when Janet adopted Cassandra, you should have seen the sheer amount of paperwork involved." Carter was also nodding. What their lawyer said must have been true, then.
Carter drank from her beer, her eyes shifting between Rodney and John. "So, when's the big day?" She said it with such deceptive casualness that Rodney was almost fooled... for about two seconds.
John opened his mouth but Rodney beat him to it. "Soon," he said, flatly. "If you think I'm going to tell you clowns the date is on this--"
"Oh, come on, Rodney!" Carter's whine was almost as good as Madison's. "You've got to let us throw you a bridal shower, at least."
"Speaking of which, who is the bride?" Jackson asked. He had a wicked gleam in his eye.
"Ask June Cleaver over there," Rodney said, pointing to John, who immediately adopted a face of utmost innocence. "But... Ward..." he said in his worst falsetto.
Before it could get out of hand, Madison danced into the kitchen with her math homework. "I'm done!" she crowed. "Can we do fugue now?"
"Wait until I check your homework, Three-M," Rodney said, taking the workbook.
"I'll do it," Carter said with a smile. "I'm done; take it as a thank you for real food. You go play on the keyboard."
Rodney gave her a wary look. "You sure? It's pretty advanced stuff..."
"Oh, come on, Rodney. I cut my teeth on linear mathematics."
"And, being a fifth wheel with no super physics or math brain, I'll help clean up," Jackson said. John laughed and handed him a dish towel.
Rodney let Madison sit at the piano while he stood behind her, correcting her posture and making sure her fingers were properly placed. "Okay, play me your theme. Half time."
Rodney continued to work with Madison as the others talked in the kitchen. He kept only half an ear on them, trying to devote full time and attention to Madison, trying to lead her to the right answer without actually telling her what she needed to do. It would have been so much easier to just do it for her, but she wasn't one of his minions. She would be replacing him some day, so it was more meaningful to guide her rather than show her.
She was getting closer, having dropped the contrapuntal by an eighth when the three in the kitchen finished and moved into the living room. "It's still off, Unca Mer," she said with a sigh.
"You're closer. You'll get there," Rodney replied, kissing her on top of her head. "Talk to Miss Graham tomorrow."
"What was that, Madison?" Jackson asked, taking a seat on the sofa. "It was beautiful."
"Thanks!" Madison lifted her feet, pulled her knees to her chest and twirled around on her butt. "It's my fugue. We gots to learn classical styles in music theory before we can go on. There's something still wrong with it. I can't get the waveforms to line up." Using her hands, she kept turning and Rodney shook his head before sitting in his favorite chair. Maybe if she fell and got herself a concussion it would teach her not to do it.
"I only found one problem in her math," Carter said, handing him the workbook before sitting next to Jackson. "The fourth set. I don't think that's solved that way...?"
Madison kept twirling as Rodney and Carter argued about the question. Of course it was right, Madison would know.
On the periphery of his consciousness, he heard Jackson and John talking to Madison, something about 'gate addresses. Eventually, he and Carter stopped discussing the problem, mainly because he was beginning to think she was at least partially right. Rodney got up, found a pencil and made a notation for Madison's tutor.
When he returned to the living room, he found all four of them embroiled in a... fight? No, too martial. Discussion? Not martial enough. "Okay, what's going on here," he finally demanded, sitting down again.
Jackson sighed. "Okay, here's the scoop. We know there's a weapon out there that can be used against the Ori."
"Well, that sounds useful," Rodney said. "Where is it?"
"We don't know." Jackson made a frustrated noise. "We've got... clues. Of some kind. We have the addresses of three different planets that somehow tie into the whereabouts of the weapon, but none of them have it. We've already done exhaustive scanning."
Rodney frowned. "Why three? How did you get those in the first place?"
"Oh, God, don't get me started," Jackson said, burying his head in his hands.
"The Ancient who built the weapon was Merlin," Carter said.
"The real Merlin, Unca Mer! He's not a story!"
"No, but T. H. White's story isn't real either, Three-M. So I take it these addresses were set out like clues to an RPG of some kind?"
"I only wish," Jackson moaned. "If it were a role-playing game, I could just give it to Cam and let him figure it out. We know the 'gate addresses are relevant, we just don't know how."
"Hmm." Rodney looked over at Madison. "Do you remember the 'gate address idea, Three-M?"
"Uh-huh." She had stopped twirling at least, though now she was sprawled on her belly on the piano bench and was moving her arms and legs like she was swimming. "It's cool. And now that I know more about linear math, it's even cooooooler," she added, drawing the word out.
Rodney gave John his best put-upon look. "I blame you for that," he said. "She used proper English until she met you."
John spread his hands and tried to look innocent.
"Anyway," Jackson said, rolling his eyes, "we've got these three 'gate addresses, and found nothing on all of them. Why would we have those addresses if they're useless?"
"Are they familiar? Are they in the database in Atlantis?" John asked.
"Yeah, they are, and there is absolutely nothing on them, either here or there." Jackson threw himself back against the back of the couch.
"Didja try to put the addresses in numbers?" Madison asked, and Carter blinked, turning to Rodney.
"Numbers?" Jackson asked. "What do you mean?"
Madison sighed as only a six-year-old, boy-you're-dumb could. "They gots ref-rence Daniel. It's their spot inna galaxy. It's not just a picture."
"Wait, I can do that. I did do that," Carter said. "Rodney, some paper?"
Rodney was pretty sure where it was going so he brought back two big legal yellow pads and a couple of mechanical pencils. Jackson showed them the addresses, and after a glance at the first, Madison's tongue came out and her eyes looked up. After a second, she read off a string of numbers that Rodney copied on the pad. Carter was looking at her own list of addresses.
"Wait, wait," Carter said, working quickly. "I'm not as much a genius as you, Maddie." That made Madison laugh.
Fifteen minutes later, they had a list of numbers which corresponded with the 'gate addresses. "Okay, now what?" Jackson asked.
Madison was sitting on Carter's lap, looking at the numbers. "Hmm."
Carter was also frowning at the numbers, one hand on Madison's waist to keep her steady. "I'm not sure..." she said.
"Oh!" Madison yelped. "Issa triangle! Look!" She all but fell off Carter's lap and grabbed a clean piece of paper. She started drawing then made a frustrated noise. "I needs something for three 'mensions. Unca Mer?"
Rodney shook his head, thinking. "We've got some of those long, wooden skewers, would those do?"
"I'll get the Play Doh," John said, hurrying towards Madison's room.
Madison stuck Play Doh on the ends of each skewer and put them together. "See? No warping 'cuz the distances and places are the same. Equa... equi-labaroal triangle."
"Equilateral triangle, Beav," John corrected absently.
"See? They all line up. Same distance and everything."
Carter was looking between Madison's construction and her notes, frowning in thought. "Wait a minute." She turned to Daniel. "Do you have the 'gate address from the Camelot planet?"
Jackson stared at her for a moment, doing his best fish impersonation. Then he grabbed his bag and started flinging paper everywhere. "Here!" he said, showing Madison the address.
She looked at it then out came the tip of her tongue as she thought. Carter had begun scribbling on her pad of paper. Rodney looked over at John who wore a bemused expression, the one he usually got when Madison was being the baby genius.
Madison suddenly smiled. "Yup!" She got another skewer and more Play Doh and added another side. "Issa pyramid! See?"
A tetrahedron, Rodney thought. How was that even possible? "That's... unreal. How...?" John asked, looking from Rodney to Carter to Jackson.
"But... what...?" Jackson stared at the pyramid on the coffee table. "So... where's the location for the weapon?"
"Daniel," Madison said, dragging out the syllables again and rolling her eyes, "It's either here, in the middle, or a place with a address that's gots all the numbers, down to one."
Jackson still looked confused. "What do you mean all the addresses?"
Carter answered before Madison could. "An address made up of symbols from all those planets, or maybe just the big three, Castiana, Sahal and Vagonbrei. We need to get back to the mountain. I can write a program that runs through the planets in the database and see if any of them match."
"A macro which would distill the addresses," Rodney said, nodding. "You could have thousands, you know."
"Yeah. All the more reason to get back immediately. Daniel, are you ready?"
Madison jumped up. "You gots to leave?" she asked, abruptly in full whine mode. "I didn't show you my dress, Sam!"
In the process of putting things back into her satchel and rising, Carter froze with a stricken look. "Oh... We've..."
"We've got a few minutes. I'll contact the Odyssey," Daniel said, with a grin as he walked into the kitchen.
Madison took off for her room at warp ten. Carter took the time to straighten everything and check for extra papers. "Thank you for the food, John, Rodney. It was delicious."
"You're welcome," John said, slinging his arm around Rodney's shoulders. "Come by anytime. But you might want to make a reservation if it's more than the two of you."
"So, can I come to the reception?" she asked, trying hard not to look sly. "You know, the wedding reception?"
If only Madison were so speedy in the morning getting dressed. It had hardly been two minutes before she was coming back out, dressed in pink sparkles. "Maddie!" Sam said, grinning hugely. "You look like a princess!"
"Uh-huh!" Madison twirled around, revealing she still had her jeans on underneath the dress.
"You look beautiful, sweetheart." Carter gave Madison a careful hug. "Are you going to wear that when your uncles get married?"
"Just asking, Rodney..." But Rodney knew better; that woman was up to no good.
"We really do need to 'set the date,' you know," John said later. Being with Carter and Jackson had worn Madison out, which was a good thing. She was sound asleep earlier than normal and that gave Rodney and John a chance to be together, actually in private. Being a parent sucked at times. Not that he'd ever give it up, though.
"Yeah, I know. I don't think there's anything to it," Rodney said, pulling his t-shirt over his head.
"I checked, and there isn't, it's pretty simple and straightforward. We just need our passports and the paperwork filled out." John sat on the bed to take his shoes off. "Oh, and two witnesses. We could do it on your lunch hour tomorrow, if you wanted."
Rodney made a noncommittal noise before heading to the bathroom.
"Oh, and I looked up the citizenship thing too, we could do both at once."
In the process of brushing his teeth, Rodney stopped and looked out of the bathroom through the bedroom door at John. "We could?" he said, though it came out more like "Ee cud?"
"Yeah. Paperwork is all there."
Rodney finished brushing his teeth and closed the door so he could pee. Get all the paperwork done there, eh? That might actually be a point in their favor. God knew when they'd have enough time to do it again. There was still no urgency, but Rodney knew every day brought them closer to an Ori invasion.
When he got back to the bedroom, John was standing next to the closet, emptying the pockets of his jeans before tossing them on the laundry pile. He was only wearing boxers and looked completely edible -- that lean, whipcord body, those strong thighs, his chest dusted with dark hair.
How Rodney felt must have been all over his face, because John turned to him, his mouth open to speak, but froze instead, his eyes reflecting puzzled amusement. "What?" he asked.
Rodney took a deep breath. How the hell had he managed to get a gorgeous guy like Sheppard in his bed every night? "Nothing," he finally said, once he was sure he could speak without squeaking. "Just... get ready for bed."
John had a sly grin on his face as he walked to the door. When he reached Rodney's side, he stopped, his hands gentle on Rodney's head as he tilted it enough to kiss. Rodney went with it, reveling in the taste and heat of John's mouth on his, the press and release of softness, John's tongue hot in his mouth.
One of John's hands drifted down until it was cupping Rodney's half-hard cock, gently squeezing and releasing. Unable to keep it in, Rodney moaned.
As gently as he'd started it, John broke their kiss. "Hold that thought," he said, his voice husky and full of promise.
When John returned from the bathroom, he made sure to close the bedroom door and lock it. Rodney was already in bed, having lost his boxers along the way. John shimmied out of his own and pounced, landing partially on top of Rodney, shoving the bedding away so they could get skin to skin. Then he sealed his mouth over Rodney's.
Kissing John was like finding religion. At least, that's how Rodney looked at it. John would sweep his tongue over and nip at Rodney's lips, then into his mouth, to tease his tongue and map it completely and it was all Rodney could do to hang on for the ride. He sucked on Rodney's lower lip and Rodney hadn't even known it was an erogenous zone. Though where John was concerned, pretty much every little bit of Rodney was an erogenous zone.
It didn't take long for them to be hard and aching. Every time he reached for John, however, John would take his hands and push them aside, hold them down. Finally, Rodney just gave in and let himself be ravished. At least, he thought that was proper word, because that was definitely how he felt. John didn't often take the lead in their lovemaking, but when he did, Rodney always ended up like a blob of molten Jell-O by the time they were done.
John never disappointed. He started by kissing and licking Rodney everywhere, every damn place there was skin to taste. John rimming him was one of the best fantasies Rodney had ever had, so to feel it in actuality made him groan with pleasure and lift his legs as far as they would go, out of John's way.
By the time he was nice and loose, he was also babbling (though he wasn't sure what he was saying) and John put two slick fingers inside, twisting and pumping gently, even as he kissed Rodney every place he could. John felt so damn good, Rodney wished they could be like this forever.
Three fingers weren't even a stretch, he was so relaxed and so tense at the same time. John slithered up Rodney's body and kissed him again, even as his fingers remained inside Rodney.
When John broke the kiss and removed his fingers, Rodney couldn't prevent the high-pitched whine that came from the back of his throat. But all John needed to do was slick a condom on before he was back, pressing into Rodney, putting Rodney's legs on his shoulders.
"Some day, I want a sling," John whispered, even as Rodney's eyes rolled back in their sockets. "I want to be able to fuck you and kiss you without hurting you, without pressing your legs up so hard. I want that, Rodney." John's voice sounded better than any porn star's.
"Yes," Rodney managed to get out. John was all the way in and it felt far past fantastic.
Before he began to thrust, John leaned down, carefully, and stole another kiss. "So fucking good," John murmured, "so tight, so hot, God, Rodney you..." Then he leaned up to his knees and began a slow, careful withdrawal followed by an equally slow thrust back.
"Oh, fuck... You're... you're going to kill me..." Rodney gasped, hoping to get John moving faster.
He heard a low, throaty chuckle above him and just began melting into the bed.
John continued those long, slow thrusts, each time getting just a little harder, a little faster. Rodney was reduced to high-pitched keening and ecstatic groans by the time John finally began pounding, slamming in and out of Rodney's body. It seemed like every thrust rubbed over Rodney's prostate, sending bright, white sparks throughout Rodney's body, making him shake.
"Close," John choked out.
Rodney nodded, the words sinking in just as he felt his climax burning up his spine. When he came, it was like his whole body clenched and lifted, keeping him from thinking, from speaking, from everything except coming so hard he felt like he was flying without wings. John came just after, his own groans and moans a counterpoint to Rodney's.
They came back down to Earth slowly but came back to each other quickly. John was nestled up to Rodney's side as Rodney chased the scattered shards of rational thought. "Wow," he finally said, after finding his voice.
John snorted into the pillow. "So eloquent," he muttered, and Rodney could almost feel the grin.
"Consider yourself suitably complimented," Rodney shot back, though it was probably not as sharp as he wanted it to be. "You know," he said, slowly as a thought came to him, "if we're going to take a honeymoon after we get married, I might not survive it..."
"Nah." John rolled over to lie flat on bed. "This is the honeymoon. So we'd better hurry up and get married, so you can start keeping me barefoot and pregnant."
Rodney hit him with a pillow.
Over breakfast, John told Madison that he and Rodney would probably be getting married over Rodney's lunch hour. To Rodney's surprise, she went ballistic.
"Today? But... but.. you can't!" she wailed. "You can't get married unless I'm there too!"
"Maddie," John began, but she cut him off.
"Pleeeeeeeeze, Unca John, Unca Mer, I gots to be there with you, I'm gonna be the flower girl, doncha remember?"
Rodney had the sneaking suspicion that he was being played, but then Maddie threw in chin-quivering and that was the capper. He exchanged a long, weary look with John. "Today really would have been perfect," he said.
John nodded, glancing at the calendar they had attached to the refrigerator. "Can't do it this afternoon, she's got that party at the Burmendez's."
"And I've got another of those interminable meetings with the chancellor, so I'll probably be at work until seven, at least."
"What's tomorrow look like?"
Rodney found his PDA and checked. "No, I've got two interviews."
"Hmmm..." If he rearranged his meeting with the docents... "Okay, that looks possible. I'll see if Colette can get the docents in early. If she can't, I won't be able to do it until next week."
"I can pick up Madison at school an hour early and meet you down at the courthouse at..." John glanced at the calendar too. "Three-thirty?"
"It might be closer to four..."
Madison had been watching them, her little head going back and forth like a ping-pong ball. "What? When?" she demanded.
"Okay, okay, day after tomorrow, in the late afternoon." Rodney couldn't shake the feeling that they'd just been played, though. He resolved to interrogate Carter, just in case, because it couldn't be anyone else.
"Yay! Can I wear my princess dress? And get flowers? You have to have a flower girl!"
Rodney slumped in defeat. "Okay, yes." He sighed at the same time John did. "How long is this phase supposed to last?" he asked, and it wasn't really a rhetorical question.
November second was a cold, clear day. Colette had set Rodney straight about getting married, telling him they wouldn't be able to just waltz in and get married, just like that. She told them they'd probably need an appointment with a magistrate and maybe others. "I can't believe you thought that," she said, shaking her head. "Doc, there are times when you are such a guy...
She'd also managed to put off the meeting with the Docents and insisted on coming with Rodney to the courthouse. "If you're never going to let me meet him," she'd said, "how will I know whether he's good enough for you?"
Rodney had dropped his chin to his chest and cut loose with a sigh. "Fine. You can come. We need two witnesses anyway."
"There. See?" He could almost bet that smug smile on her face was the same as John's. "And besides, I've got Maddie's flowers and I did make all the appointments necessary. I've got a vested interest in this marriage so I'm not going to leave you guys alone with it."
Rodney just gave into the inevitable. So much for 'low-key' and 'quick.'
They made it to the courthouse by three-thirty. Rodney had confirmed with John that he and Madison were on their way, having made a pit-stop at home so she could change. He really needed to find a way to get that damn dress burned. At least she hadn't asked for a fur coat to go with it... yet.
Rodney picked up the relevant paperwork and was sitting on a bench with Colette, doing the preliminary stuff, when she nudged him. "Doc?"
He looked up, annoyed, then noticed where she was staring. "Oh, Christ," he breathed. "Why here? Why now?"
Branwen McKay was walking towards them like a slowly-charging rhino. She was wearing a different fur coat and a glower that could have curdled cream. Rodney passed the paperwork to Colette and stood, girding his loins as fast as they would gird, whatever that meant.
"Branwen. I didn't expect you here. Who have you bribed in the courthouse to get such good intel?"
Her mouth was a thin, pale pink line. "Immaterial. I know what you're planning on doing, and I will not allow it."
Rodney rolled his eyes. "You do. So tell me, what am I going to do?"
She glared at him, but Rodney had had years of perfecting a Teflon outer skin upon which no glare would stick. "You are taking Madison out of the country -- again -- and I understand this is a long-term situation. I forbid it. You may be able to deny me guardianship but you cannot deny me visitation rights."
"Oh, yes, because we both know that you've never even bothered to come by for the last ten months, let alone acknowledged the birthday of your only grandchild," Rodney replied, crossing his arms over his chest. "Yes, I can just feel the love."
"I will not allow--"
"Mother, I would move to another galaxy if it meant I could be free of you," Rodney snarled. "Fight me all you want, you won't win. This is one of the few times when money won't give you what you need."
Her eyes narrowed and her face set into a mask of rage. Rodney found he wasn't in the least worried. He'd faced down Wraith, and though he might be tempted to say his mother was worse, he knew she wasn't.
"There is no place on this planet you could go without my following you, Meredith. If I have to, I'll bring charges--"
"Oh, like the last time? It didn't work then and it won't work now." Suddenly, Madison darted past him to sit on the bench with Colette, hiding her face in Colette's shoulder
"So, you're the famous mother," John drawled. He bumped into Rodney's side and wrapped an arm around Rodney's shoulders, even as he turned them so that they were between her and Madison. "Funny, you don't look like Margaret Hamilton. Maybe it's the lack of green."
She raked up and down John once, her whole face glowing with disdain, then Branwen ignored him utterly, wrote him off. "Madison. Whatever frippery are you wearing?"
Rodney turned slightly so he could see Madison, her head still buried in Colette's shoulder. Colette was gently patting Madison's back and Madison was shaking her head.
"Madison, come over here, you and I are leaving."
Madison just shook her head and burrowed deeper into Colette's shoulder. "No, please..." she whispered. Colette's expression was set and furious.
Rodney sighed, suddenly feeling more tired than angry. "Mother, get out of here. John and I are to be married shortly and I'd prefer to have nice memories of this day, instead of your idiocy."
"Engage in whatever perversion you want, Meredith. I don't care. I just want Madison and I intend to get her. She needs to be raised her properly, not like your father did with you and your sister, and you are completely incapable of that. Make no mistake, I will have her."
"Okay, lady," John growled. "You just crossed the line. Nobody threatens my family. Get out."
She gave him a withering look. "And how do you intend to back up that threat?" she asked.
"I'll find a way." John took one menacing step and she backed up, her face suddenly uncertain.
"You are finally, completely and spectacularly in over your head, Mommy Dearest." Rodney stayed where he was, sheltering Madison, while John stood guard. "You're not even going to come close to getting what you want."
"Second that," John said. Rodney thought he'd never heard that tone of voice out of him.
She glared at Rodney for another few seconds before turning on her heel (her no doubt expensive, Prada heel) and left.
Rodney collapsed in a heap on the bench next to Madison, who let go of Colette and swarmed onto Rodney's lap, burying her head in his neck. She was shaking. He put his arms around her and squeezed, closing his eyes in order to keep the vision of his mother out.
"Why's grandma so mean, Unca Mer?" she whispered.
"I don't know, Maddie. I really don't know."
Rodney felt more than saw John crouch in front of them. "You okay?"
"We will be," Rodney replied. John's hand on his knee promised him safety.
After a few moments, Colette spoke in a gentle voice, "You must be the famous John Sheppard. I'm Colette Ronsard, not related to the poet."
John rose and shook her hand. "Yes, I'm John Sheppard, it's good to meet you. Though I expected to see you with a halo and walking on water..."
Rodney lifted his head enough to see the wicked grin on Colette's face. "And you don't exactly look like a cross between Adonis and Casanova... though I have to admit, you're close..."
"Oh stop it, both of you. He's taken and you're gay; get over it."
John started to laugh, which set Colette off, too. It stopped after a few chuckles, though, and Rodney knew why. "Jesus, she's worse than you said." John sighed before continuing in his normal drawl. "Hey, Rodney, wanna get hitched?" He put his hand on the back of Madison's head. When he continued, it was in a quieter voice. "Hey, Beav. Time to be the flower girl."
Madison uncoiled herself from Rodney's lap and looked up. Rodney didn't miss the frantic glance all around them, checking. He didn't think either John or Colette missed it either. "Is it wedding time?" she asked, in a tiny voice.
"Yes, it is," Rodney said. "Colette has your flowers. Are you ready?"
"Okay." She slid off Rodney's lap but stayed close, touching Rodney or John continuously.
John suddenly froze. "Wait a minute..." he said, sweeping Madison into his arms. "Wait... I'm getting married! I'm not ready! What if he wants more children? I don't want to get fat again! And my career, I'm not going to give up being a brain surgeon to be a stay-at-home mom! And shouldn't we have a pre-nup? And the beach house in Maui, how should--"
Rodney smacked John in the shoulder, though Madison was giggling and it was good to hear it. "Unca John," she said, wrapping her arms around his neck. "Don't be silly. You already is a stay-home mom!"
"Oh, no!" John said, grinning ear to ear. "But Madison, I really don't want to get fat again!"
As Rodney and Colette followed John and Madison to the counter, Colette turned to Rodney with a grin. "He's good enough," she said. Rodney just sighed.
It took fifteen minutes to complete all the paperwork, so they were about five minutes late to the magistrate who would marry them. In the interim, Colette worked some flowers into Madison's hair, anchored by the tiara, then gave her a little basket in which to carry the rest. The magistrate took one look at Madison and abandoned the rant about them being late.
The ceremony itself was simple and quick, which made it feel surreal to Rodney. Before he knew it, he was saying "I do" and "Yes" to such questions as did he promise to love and cherish John Sheppard as long as they both should live and man, that was... strange. He'd expected more trepidation, on both their parts, but apparently having a run-in with Mommy Dearest killed stomach butterflies like Raid. John answered every question firmly as well, and Rodney wondered if he was nervous.
Colette and the magistrate's assistant stood as witnesses; Colette was taking pictures with a digital camera which Rodney didn't like, but he'd wait to object. At least John had put a fairly decent shirt on over his best pair of jeans, but it was still felt damned ridiculous to be married to a man. Even John. Madison stood with Colette watching the proceedings with a solemn expression on her face.
"Do you have the rings?" the magistrate asked. Rodney froze.
"The rings?" Oh shit. "Oh, shit, we forgot rings!" he gasped, gaping at John in horror.
"Language, Unca Mer," Madison said, grinning up at Colette.
John had an equally stunned look on his face. "Uh... we forgot..."
The magistrate raised one eyebrow and glanced at Colette, who was almost turning blue in her attempt to keep from laughing. "Yes. Rings. Though they aren't absolutely necessary."
"We're really doing this mostly for Madison," John said. "She's--"
"I know," the magistrate replied, still smiling at Colette. "Your assistant told me all about it and I have to commend you. You don't really need rings, we can skip that part."
"Oh, good," Rodney said, barely regaining his composure. How could they have forgotten something that important?
Finally, it seemed they were done. "By the power vested in me as a magistrate of the city of Toronto and the Province of Ontario, I declare you legal spouses. Go, now, in peace and love from this day forth."
Rodney turned to look at John, who turned to look back. Suddenly, John grabbed Rodney's head and planted a huge, wet kiss on his lips. Rodney was surprised for a moment then decided to heck with it and kissed John back. When they broke apart, Rodney wondered if his face looked the same as John's because that was a pretty disgustingly sappy look.
"Now, me!" Madison declared, wrapping her hands around their legs. With a laugh, first John then Rodney bent down and kissed Madison on the forehead. "Unca John! Does it mean you're Canadian now?"
"No, Beav," John replied, tucking a bit of flower back in her hair. "We still have that to do before we can do the rest."
"Oh, you're looking for citizenship?" the magistrate asked. "I can help with that, if you'd like."
"You can?" Rodney asked, giving John a wide-eyed look. "I thought it was too late..."
"I've got it with me..." John said, his voice hopeful.
"Well, let's take a look," the magistrate said. Rodney knew it was after hours for her, but apparently she didn't mind -- all hail the power of the cute, Rodney thought. She looked through the mountain of paperwork John had been working on since before they returned from the mountain, asking questions about employment and all that.
Colette and Madison sat down on a couple of chairs in the small meeting room where John and Rodney had been married. They had their heads together and Colette was showing Madison the pictures she'd taken. Rodney was really going to have to steal that camera away from her. Or maybe just the memory card.
He was wrenched back to the present by the magistrate saying, "That should do. Since you're already working for a multi-national, of which Canada is a part, by Canadian law, you are working in Canada." She had things for Rodney to sign too, then sent her assistant to copy a stack. "I'll put the forms in an inter-office envelope and send it along. You should be good to go. You'll hear from immigration within the next month or so."
"Thank you," John said, an incredible look of relief on his face. "I've been going through paper hell for weeks now."
It was a happy group who finally left the courthouse, well after closing time. Maddie opted to go with John, so Rodney waved goodbye to Colette and got the Prius going for home. They arrived almost simultaneously, Rodney pulling in behind John, who was sitting in the truck.
When Rodney walked up to the driver's side, he found John just staring out the windshield at the house. "There're lights on," he said, his voice tense. "Inside. I know I didn't turn them on."
"It's okay, Unca John," Madison said. "We can go in." As if to prove that, she jumped out of the truck and went to the front door.
"Madison! Wait!" Rodney said, following her quickly. The door wasn't locked, either, and Rodney knew John wouldn't have left it that way.
They got to the front door and realized what was gong on -- the house was filled with people. "SURPRISE!"
"Oh, God." Rodney glanced at John but he was just as thunderstruck. There was a big banner across the living room that read CONGRATULATIONS and delicious smells coming from the kitchen.
Carter was right out front, grinning from ear to ear. "Did we surprise you?" she asked.
"How did you... never mind." He sighed and shook his head. There had to be better ways to use the Asgard beaming technology.
Everybody was there; even Colette pulled up just after they went in so his sneaky assistant was in on it the whole time. Everybody included a good chunk of Atlantis, to Rodney's shock. Elizabeth was in the front row and actually hugged him, tightly. "It's so good to see you, Rodney," she whispered in his ear. "We've missed you so much."
"You have?" Rodney felt unaccountably choked up as he squeezed her back. He was getting thumped on his back by others, and John had Madison in his arms. "Really?"
"Really." She finally let him go after one last squeeze. "There're others here who've missed you too," she said, and he turned to see Teyla and Ronon.
"Oh, God," Rodney said, his voice cracking. Teyla walked to him and put her hands on his shoulders, bowing her head. Rodney swallowed hard while he touched his head to hers. "Teyla..."
"Rodney." She lifted her head and Rodney could have sworn there were tears in her eyes. "Your absence has been keenly felt, far more than we could ever say."
"Missed your whining, McKay," was all Ronon said before grabbing Rodney around the waist and hauling him up into a spine-cracking hug.
"Hey!" Rodney yelped. "Delicate scientist here!"
Ronon put him down as everyone laughed and came by to pat his shoulder or his back, every one of them also saying congratulations -- Zelenka, Simpson, Kusanagi, Cadman... it looked like half of Atlantis was crammed into his house. It was almost too much.
Then John was there again, thank God. Madison was still in his arms, but he put her down as they got to Rodney. "I think there're some introductions to be made here," John said.
Madison gave him her best 'boy, are you are dumb' look (and she did not look at all like Rodney while doing so). "I knows who they are, Unca John," she said before pointing. "That's Doctor 'Lizabeth, and that's Aunt Teyla and that's Uncle Radek." She smiled up at everyone. "I'm Madison. Unca John and Unca Mer just got married and I was the flower girl!"
Elizabeth crouched down and offered Madison her hand. "It's very good to meet you, Madison," she said with a smile. "I understand you might be coming with your uncles to stay with us?"
Madison screwed up her face. "I guess so, but I'm still a little ascared about it."
Teyla also crouched. "I can assure you I have lived there all my life and have been fine. There is no place in the universe completely safe, not even here."
"I know, Unca John said that." She looked up at John then back to Teyla. "Unca Mer says you're the bravest and strongest person he knows, so I should ask you for help if I have problems."
Rodney winced, but Teyla just smiled. "I shall have to thank him then." She stood and turned. "There is another here who would like to meet you," she added, bringing Ronon to the forefront.
Madison looked up and up and up. "Are you Ronon? You're very tall."
"Yeah. You're very small."
"But I haven't finished being grown. Are you all growed up?"
"I think so," Ronon rumbled, smiling down into Madison's eyes.
"Then I'm gonna grow to be your tallness. You want to see my room?"
"Sure," Ronon said. He offered Madison his hand and she tugged him through the crowd.
"I'm not sure whether to be impressed or horrified," John said. Teyla and Elizabeth laughed.
"She's wonderful, Rodney," Elizabeth said, linking her arm around his. "I can't wait for you to come back home."
"You haven't seen in her in full whine mode," Rodney said, allowing himself to be led to the living room.
They had to have a quarter of SGC in Toronto. He was just thinking it was pretty good that General Landry wasn't there when the man came through the crowd in front of them. "Congratulations, gentlemen," he said, lifting his beer bottle in salute.
Rodney gaped at him. "I... thank you, sir. I didn't expect you..."
"It's a good thing I know absolutely nothing about this party, or I'd have to shut it down." He winked then turned to John and nodded.
John grinned back. "We're glad to host you, General, even if you're not really here."
Landry laughed and headed through the crowd. There were just so many people that Rodney couldn't keep them all straight. John tried to stay by his side (or rather, he tried to stay by John's) but the press of the crowd, the number of people who looked to be glad to see him again... It really was overwhelming.
A clinking sound drew his attention to the front of the room, in front of the windows. It was Elizabeth, clinking two beer bottles together. Gradually the room grew quiet. "We're here tonight for many things, but the main one is to celebrate the marriage of two guys who really deserve each other."
John had been working through the crowd to Rodney's side; at Elizabeth's words, he said, "Hey!"
Rodney smacked him and everyone laughed.
"I've also been reliably informed that, in true Sheppard-McKay style, they forgot one of the most important elements to a marriage. Teyla?"
Teyla stepped forward as Elizabeth made room for her. "Among my people, when one heart has been pledged to another, it is customary to exchange rings. At times the rings go in the ears, but more often they are on fingers." She had two boxes, one marked with a J and the other with an R. She gave the J box to Rodney and the R to John. "Such rings are made out of a metal called trion, a rare metal with special properties."
Rodney opened his box and blinked. Inside was a broad, plain ring of shiny metal. It looked like an oil slick, shimmery with a rainbow of colors -- he couldn't decide if it was golden or silver.
"Once placed on the hand, it will shrink or expand to fit," Teyla said. "You each have the other's ring. It is my hope you like them and will grow old with them on your fingers."
"This is really beautiful, Teyla," John said, his voice suspiciously thick. Rodney knew he was going to get all emotional, he just had that feeling. "C'mere, McKay."
Rodney gave him an exasperated look but turned so he could see John. They had the rings and it wasn't much of a stretch to slip them on in tandem. The rings looked simple and elegant, as beautiful as Teyla and the rest of their friends. "Thank you, Teyla," John said, slinging his arm around Rodney's shoulders.
Someone started clapping which set everyone off. Rodney looked down at his hand then up at his... husband? Boy, wasn't that weird, but oddly comforting, too.
It was going to be an interesting year to come, Rodney thought with a smile.