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John had never felt anything like this - pain so pure and bright he doubted it even originated from any actual injury, pain distilled. All he knew was the wrongness deep in his belly, where his son gestated. "Not again," John whispered to himself. But of course it would happen again. Every time he allowed himself to love someone, they were always taken away from him. He guarded his happiness too carefully, wanted it too badly, and as much as he tried not to get attached, he always did. Fuck Cam for making him love the neonate. Fuck Rodney for telling him he was having a son. Fuck this whole stupid planet and its entombed civilization and fuck this pain in John's gut. "Ow," he whimpered, gathering the strength to open up his helmet, even though every movement jarred something deep inside him.

This wasn't labor. It was too early, and labor hadn't felt this painful. Deep down, John knew what it was. But he wouldn't believe it until he heard it from a doctor. Besides, there were rare cases when a prematurely birthed neonate had survived an egg-sac rupture. Even if he had to disobey all the rules, lose his coat of arms to pick his son up to transfer him, John would.

Another wave of pain hit, crashing over him until his vision whited out. John had no choice but to ride out the pain. He couldn't move in this small cockpit, and when he tried to push himself up, another fiery bolt of agony shot up his right wrist. He vaguely remembered moving his hands to protect the neonate, so it was probably broken from hitting the controls. Time seemed to stretch and bend. John knew that the jumper was only minutes away, but it felt like hours, sitting as still as he could manage with nothing for company but pain and guilt and worry.

John heard them before he saw them. "Just because it didn't show up on the sensors doesn't mean it's dead. The jumper's sensors aren't as accurate as an LSD at close range." That was Rodney, trying to convince himself that everything would be okay even when he knew better.

John let out a pitiful whimper. The neonate wasn't showing up on the sensors. He cupped his throbbing belly with his good hand. "Fight, little guy," he whispered. "You're Cameron Mitchell's son, so you sure as hell know how."

"Easy, lad," Carson said, popping up into the cockpit even though there was barely enough room for two grown men. "Hand me the backboard!" Carson shouted. John would have turned his head to see how in the hell Carson planned to get it in there, but twisting hurt. "John, you need to stay still. In any crash situation there's a risk of spinal involvement."

John's back didn't feel broken. "No," he protested, knowing it sounded weak from pain. "It's cramps. The baby."

Carson had the LSD out now, running it over John's stomach like an ultrasound. It took a moment before John felt Carson's hand gripping his shoulder. "There's a heartbeat, but it's very weak. I'm sorry, son, but it's a Pasteur Rupture. There's nothing I can do."

"No, no, no," John cried, suffering from a different pain that was in no way physical, squirming in his seat.

"Are you bloody out of your mind? Stay still. Internal bleeding and sepsis are still a concern to you, not to mention a broken back. So just stay still and let me help you onto the backboard."

"Okay," John agreed, his mind blanking out. He was grateful for the pain now, because at least he didn't have to think about that time in the desert, or what he would have to tell Cam, or how Rodney would undoubtedly ask him to try again if after this, assuming he was even physically able. But even if he had eggs left, he didn't have any more in him the give. He couldn't do this again.

John had no idea how Carson had maneuvered him onto the backboard and out of the shuttle craft, but he'd felt Rodney's hand clasping his and he'd held tight against the pain. Rodney couldn't make it better. Nobody could make it better, but at least Rodney was here.

Once they were settled in the back of the jumper, Carson gave John's shoulder another squeeze, as though it were any consolation. "I'm going to give you something for the pain now."

John shook his head, grabbing for Rodney. "No. No, the baby. No painkillers."

"John," Carson's eyes were sad. He felt too deeply to be a doctor. His patient's prognosis was always written on his face. "You're two weeks away from your labor window. There have only ever been two live births that early out and only one of those was successfully transferred."

"Then this will be the second one," John gasped, whimpering through another cramp.

Carson patted John's shoulder absently, turning to Rodney as though John weren't even there. "He's in a lot of pain and his heart rate is all over the place. The trauma of the crash has caused several of the cloacal veins to burst. He could bleed out if his pulse stays up like this. With a history of labor sickness, the decision falls to you as his proxy."

"There's no chance that the neonate could be viable?" Rodney asked, sounding small all of a sudden.

"I wish I could tell you there was."

Rodney was going to do it, John realized. But there was a chance. A very small chance, but John would take it. He'd beaten the odds enough times. Hell, he'd beaten them today, landing the shuttle when Rodney had told him it was impossible. He grabbed Rodney's wrist as the man tried to turn away. "Please, Rodney, if you do this, I'll never forgive you." It was a low blow, he knew, but one of the reason's he'd picked Rodney as his proxy was the fact that Rodney believed in him. Rodney would never go against John's direct wishes.

Rodney's face seemed to collapse. John sympathized. This was tough and Rodney wasn't even the one who felt like his insides were tearing apart from the pain of it. "You could die," Rodney argued. "I can't let you die."

"And I won't."

"You're in real danger, John," Carson chimed in.

"Please, just give the baby a chance." And suddenly he was in that desert cave once again, Leo bruised and bleeding and begging John to give their child just a few minutes. Only now John was the one begging.

Rodney nodded, running his fingers through John's hair in a futile attempt to ward off the pain. "Okay," he whispered.

Carson had something to say about that, but John stopped listening, praying for the first time in a long time that this would work out.

***

John didn't really remember the jumper ride back to Atlantis, or how he arrived in the infirmary. The pain was getting worse, even though moments ago he wouldn't have said such a thing were possible. But Carson explained that premature labor with bruised muscles and the cloacal bleed adding undo pressure to everything would of course be painful. Rodney hadn't left John's side, for which he was grateful, but he could see Rodney's resolve waning with each of the pained gasps John couldn't seem to hold in. The weakness grew, the detached feeling of shock settling around John like a long lost friend.

Dr. Biro was hovering above him now, speaking to Rodney. "This is classic labor sickness. There isn't any option, Doctor McKay. He's losing blood into the isthmus. The neonate will drown even if it is still alive by then. Most of the yolk is already diluted by blood. We need to give him medication to stop the labor and the get him into surgery to repair the bleed. The neonate is already lost. We need to start saving Colonel Sheppard."

"No!" John whimpered, pushing away Dr. Biro's insistent hands and grabbing at Rodney desperately. This wasn't labor sickness. John knew what he wanted and he wanted the baby to live. "He's still alive."

"Marie, prep 4 megs of lorazepam. Dr. McKay," Biro snapped, drawing Rodney's attention away no matter how hard John fought to keep it, "he's not in his right mind now. You read the literature on labor sickness. A male carrier's body is flooded with hormones and his instincts tell him to protect the neonate at all costs until it can transfer to the pouch. He can't make the decision for himself, so you need to make it."

"Rodney!" John shouted, pushing up from the bed despite how much it hurt to put weight on his broken wrist. A sudden burst of adrenaline washed through him until he felt his heart would beat out of his chest. "Please."

"How long before he's critical?" Rodney asked, ignoring John completely.

"If we start a transfusion now, he might have another fifteen minutes before we absolutely need to seal the bleed, but that's not enough time for the neonate."

"Start the transfusion. I need to convince him this is the right thing to do."

"He has labor sickness. You won't be able to convince him." Dr. Biro was always incredibly matter-of-fact, but her voice sounded downright harsh now, like she'd long given up on talking to people in labor.

The nurse started an IV, but John barely felt the pinch. In fact, the pain had given him a momentary reprieve, his thoughts graced with sudden clarity. Biro was right. He didn't doubt that if he finished the labor now both he and the neonate would die, but there was a small inkling of a thought, deep down in the layers of consciousness that he only ever touched when connected to the chair. The Ancients had programmed this process into their genetic code. They'd wanted men to carry and they had more advanced medicine than John had ever seen and he suddenly knew with an awe-inspiring clarity that there was another way. John had always felt a connection with the city, and that connection had suddenly strengthened. He was hyperaware that this wasn't where he was supposed to be. There was another lab. A birthing center. He needed to get there. He needed to get up.

"Rodney," John choked out. "Please, I just need to talk to you."

"Give us five minutes of privacy," Rodney shouted. "Just because he's out of his mind with pain, doesn't mean we should pretend he's not even here. He's the one who will have to live with this. So get out."

Rodney successfully shoved and hustled a scowling Biro and two flustered nurses out of the curtained-off area. John could still see their shadows through the curtain. He doubted they would move further.

"Okay, I know this is difficult for you, but you have to accept that there is absolutely no medical way for the neonate to survive this. You, on the other hand, are going to be saved no matter what. I just need to know that you understand. I'm not forcing this onto you. There is no other choice."

John ignored him, using his good hand to push himself up off the bed with a whimper.

"What?! No, no, absolutely not!" Rodney shouted, rushing over and pushing John back down. "I know you are not that stupid. You can't kill yourself over this. You can have more children, if-"

"You'd like that, wouldn't you?" John snapped. "Get rid off this one and I'll be your own little hatchery."

Rodney's face simply collapsed, making John regret having said it. In his defense, he was in a lot of pain and there was a life at stake. He couldn't deal with this whole Rodney thing right now. He had hoped he'd never have to deal with it. But then Rodney rallied, getting that stubborn look that John both loved and hated. "That's not what I meant and right now it's not important. What's important is that you let the doctors help you. You're bleeding internally and you need help."

"Yeah," John growled. When Rodney leaned closer he whispered, "You need to help me up."

"John--"

"Just hear me out. They Ancients had a machine that can fix this, Rodney. I can feel it."

Rodney looked honestly pained. "You have labor sickness, John. You'll grasp at anything."

"I know it's there. Just think about it. The Ancients were much more medically advanced than us. And we even have special areas just for childbirth."

"Maybe, but if it hasn't already come up in the database then I'm not going to find it in ten minutes."

Another contraction hit then, hard, and John grabbed Rodney's hand involuntarily, sobbing into the soft fabric of Rodney's shirtsleeve. "Just get me up and I can take us there. If it turns out to be nothing, the doctors can do whatever they want with me. Please, give my son a chance."

"Okay, okay. Of course I can never say no to you no matter how stupid an idea you have. Just, um, let me get a wheelchair. I don't think you should be walking."

John made to protest, but after finally having achieved Rodney's compliance the pain had center stage once again and it was all John could do just to stay conscious.

John could hear Rodney yelling in the background, unable to stop himself from smiling at the comforting Rodney-ness of it. "I'm his labor proxy and I'm the chief science officer of this expedition and I say that the neonate is not an acceptable loss, so either help me move him or get the hell out of my way before I get Ronon in here to help me!"

There was a flurry of activity. Rodney insisted on pushing the wheelchair himself, but a whole entourage followed behind. Ronon and Teldy and Dr. Biro along with two of her nurses. Carson was staying behind in the operating room.

John closed his eyes when they reached the transporter, trying to tell the city to take them wherever it needed to. Then he blinked and the doors were opening up into a wide corridor lined with open rooms with large windows facing the sea. There was a serenity about this place that John hadn't felt anywhere else in the city, and he felt strangely at peace despite the pain in his gut. "There, at the end of the corridor," he choked out.

Rodney didn't waste any time, handing the chair off to Teldy in exchange for a computer tablet that John didn't even notice she'd been carrying. But Rodney's scans were useless. The voice in the back of John's head was getting stronger. There was one machine, a large contraption the looked a lot like the medical scanner, but with a much larger fixed apparatus right above where the patient's midsection would be. John didn't know where he found the energy, but somehow he was on his feet, stumbling with Ronon suddenly by his side until he was lying on the bed. The machine switched on, glowing a deep, ominous red before displaying the horrifying image of what was happening inside John. The yolk sac was pretty much destroyed, the life-sustaining yolk a marbled pattern, stained with blood. The neonate was stock-still in the middle of it, though the scan showed a faint heartbeat.

Then the machine beeped, metal cuffs shooting out of the table to restrain John's hands and hold him across his legs and chest.

"Oh my god," Rodney said, using the doomsday voice and rushing over to John's side. "What have you gotten yourself into this time?" He fumbled frantically, trying to find a computer interface, but it was too late.

The apparatus hovering over John's stomach opened up and a long, thick needle descended from it. John barely had time to scream before it plunged into his stomach and he finally gave up on consciousness.

***

John woke up to the soft beating of a heart-rate monitor and a tight, numb feeling in his belly. He dozed for a moment, recognizing the hazy feeling of awakening from a drugged sleep. John's right wrist itched, but when he tried to move his left one to scratch it, he found that it was already occupied holding someone's hand. Who's hand? Where was he? John opened his eyes to find floor to ceiling windows and a fantastic view of the sea. Then it all came back within moments: the baby, the Ancient birthing center, the crash.

John gasped, disentangling himself from the mysterious grasp and reaching for his stomach, his gut ached with the movement of yanking his hospital gown up but he needed to know. He needed to see.

"It's all right," a familiar voice drawled. Cam grabbed John's roaming fingers in one hand and used the other to pet John's hair. "It's okay, sunshine. The baby's safe."

John felt all the tension flow out of his body then, collapsing back onto the hospital bed. "You did good," Cam continued.

"You're not mad at me?" John asked, watching Cam press the button to put the bed more upright.

"I'm mad that you were even in that situation to begin with, and mad that your doctors almost didn't let you save our son, but I'm not mad at you. If that had been Teal'c or Sam or Daniel, or even Vala held hostage in a Wraith storage device, I would've done the same."

"Teyla?" John asked, feeling a little guilty to not have thought about her immediately.

"She's fine. She wanted to see you, but the doctors have her and Ronon back in the main infirmary. Before you ask, McKay's in his quarters. Dr. Beckett was threatening to sedate him when I got here. He only agreed to rest when I said I'd be here looking after you.

Rodney. Shit. John had said a lot of awful things to him. And now Cam was here and Rodney would be sneaking around trying to give them space for whatever paranoid delusion of a love affair he'd come up with between John and Cam. But John's body still ached even through a healthy dose of medication, and he'd almost lost another child. He was entitled to some comfort and it wasn't his fault that Cam was great at comforting.

He even knew how to take John's mind off his problems. "Hey, wanna see the technological wonder that saved our son?"

John nodded, watching as Cam carefully pulled down John's hospital gown to reveal two bandages on his abdomen. "That's the surgical site from where they repaired the bleeding," Cam pointed to the lower one. "The doctors said you were very lucky. The surgery couldn't have waited another five minutes." He started peeling back the other loosely taped dressing to reveal--

"What the hell is that?!" John exclaimed, poking the glowing amber device that seemed to be embedded into the skin of his belly.

"That, according to Dr. McKay, is a portable shield generator. The machine you managed to get yourself into generated a force field around the neonate then injected it full of artificial yolk. The doctors say that in a few weeks the device will blink blue and then all that's needed is for another gene carrier to activate it and the force shield will turn off and you'll go into labor. Meanwhile, the shield protects the baby from anything in your blood supply so they can give you pain meds to deal with your injuries."

John protested, "I don't need--"

"Ah, ah, you do need them. If you want to incubate, the doctors say you need to stay in bed, resting, for the next three weeks. The surgical wounds need to heal and the swelling from the trauma to your pouch needs to go down."

John scowled. He'd never been good at bed rest. In fact, the only time he'd actually stayed in bed the whole time the doctors told him to had been when he turned into a bug, and that was only out of fear of what he would do before he had full control over himself. But he couldn't very well jeopardize his son's life simply because he was restless. "Fine. I'll stay in bed," he sighed, already frustrated. How had his father gone through all this with him? The waiting and the hoping for the transfer to go successfully? Patrick Sheppard's reasons to be anxious were far different than John's, but he'd suffered the same uncertainty and all without telling either the donor or John's mom. "I wish my father was here," he sighed all of a sudden. He really needed to get them to lower the dosage on his medication otherwise he'd be letting things slip all over the place.

Cam frowned a little, no doubt as worried about such an uncharacteristic emotional confession as John. "Why?"

John shrugged, trying to trivialize it. "I never really paid attention to all the noble traditions. I dozed off in Manners, Tradition and Breeding more times than I could count. I didn't have any interest in high society and bloodlines and endowments, but I could've learned more about what it's like to carry. My father knows. He did that for me. I can see why it's traditional to have your father there for the first." Maybe it was the only thing that Patrick Sheppard had done for John, but he'd done it and John was grateful. No matter how angry they got, Patrick had carried John inside him for almost two years, even though he could have been pouch-weened much earlier. John couldn't deny that connection, even though he'd tried for a year or so after Patrick suggested Leo's death would allow John to carry on the family name with the 'right sort.'

Cam smiled that mischievous, bright smile of his, "Your father can't be happy you're having a child with a pleb."

John rolled his eyes. "My father hasn't been happy with me in a long time. He might even see this as a small victory. I'll finally be adding a name to the register. Even though Dave's already given him plenty of grandkids."

"Not as special as ours," Cam remarked, giving John's good hand another squeeze. "Are you all right here for a minute? I want to get Dr. Biro to come check on you."

John nodded, yawning. God, was he tired.

Cam smiled at him a little indulgently, ruffling his hair. "Feel better, John."

John barely remembered Biro's quick exam, already feeling the soft pull of the drugs dragging him back under.

***

The next time John woke, it was to the familiar sound of Rodney verbally eviscerating someone. "I know you don't need to be a genius to knock someone up, so I'll excuse your ignorance. Still, the machine is here. The experts on Ancient technology are here. And his home is here!" Rodney didn't just sound mad. He sounded genuinely upset. John tried to push himself up so he could let Rodney know he was awake, but it had been one hell of a crash and he ached. He could just eavesdrop a little longer, until the pain ebbed. At least until he found out who Rodney was yelling at now.

"First of all, you don't have to be a genius to donate, but John must have seen something he liked when we had sex, and it wasn't stupidity."

"Yeah, he saw a bottle of whiskey. And you took advantage of him!" Rodney protested. If John were able he'd have protested Rodney's protest. He wasn't some blushing virgin. He chose to get drunk and he chose to have sex with Cam and to carry the baby.

"We're both adults, McKay. Just because you're too scared to admit John wanted me doesn't mean that he was a victim. He's no longer in labor which means you have absolutely no say in what he does. And he indicated to me that he might want to go through the labor on Earth and his doctors agree. The decision is up to him in the end. I'm just making sure he has the option to come home."

"It's not his home!" Rodney shouted, suddenly incensed.

"No, but it will be the baby's, at least for a while. What are you so afraid of? That John will make the right decision and do what's best for our son, even if it's not what's best for you? Or are you scared that it's me he wants?"

"No," Rodney replied. On the surface he sounded confident, but John knew him well enough that he understood the uncertainty beneath. "He chose to be with me even after he knew he was carrying your neonate. He could have stayed with you, but he didn't."

John took a moment to wonder why he hadn't stayed with Cam. John loved Rodney more than anything, but he was self aware enough to know that Rodney wouldn't always be able to give him what he needed. Rodney and John together had so many issues with their families that they'd fuck any kid up. Rodney was needy and petty and crazy and his personality was so large that oftentimes John got swept up in it and forgot that someone had to be the adult in the situation. Rodney had no idea what John needed. John had no idea what he himself needed, but Cam knew. Cam could make things good for John and the baby even if John's heart was here, in Atlantis with Rodney.

"It's not over yet, McKay," Cam replied. "I'll fight for John and for my son. Never doubt that." The fierce intensity in Cam's voice surprised John. He'd known for years that Cam was one stubborn SOB, but he hadn't expected Cam would put himself between John and Rodney. From the moment they first kissed, John knew he'd end up with Rodney. It seemed so right, inevitable. On the other hand, John imagined Cam with their son and couldn't help but smile. He rested his hand lightly on his sore belly. He could imagine the three of them as a family - playing catch and fixing cars, in a large house in the country with a porch swing and enough acres for a kid and a dog. He wanted that too. Wasn't he justified in wanting both?

"He already chose me," Rodney replied.

"What, no take-backs? I'm not going to steal him from you, McKay. I'll respect his decision, but if he ever decides that being with me is what's best for him, then I'll be there. I'm on John's side here and I'm not so sure you are."

"What? Of course I'm on John's side, you moron. I love him and I don't think he should be ripped away from his home just because the two of you got drunk and forgot the condom."

"Then you know he needs to go back to Earth now. His family is there and I'm there and we can afford the time to take good care of him."

John didn't want to hear Rodney give in. He wanted Rodney to fight to keep John on Atlantis, even if he'd only be a burden here. But he knew Rodney would give in. Rodney had been vilified for being selfish so long that he didn't get that sometimes you had to do what you felt was right, not what was logical.

John cleared his throat, finding it surprisingly difficult to talk. He must have been out for longer than he thought. "Rodney," he grunted.

It didn't take long for Cam to pull back the curtain, greeting John with a bright smile. "Look who's awake."

Rodney, on the other hand, was scowling. "Nice of you to finally join us, Sheppard. Now, time to correct the idiot colonel here about this nonsense of going back to Earth."

All John had to do was say that he didn't care how dangerous Atlantis was, or that nobody really had the time to care for a bed-bound military commander. It would be easy to grab Rodney's hand and say he wanted to stay with him, no matter where. But John found himself looking away from Rodney's hopeful blue eyes, seized by sudden panic, remembering how he'd almost lost this baby to combat, like his last child. John was strong, but he wasn't sure he could survive that again. "It won't be for long," he ended up saying, feeling as empty as it sounded.

Cam beamed, and John focused on that, not daring to look at Rodney. "I already talked it over with Dr. Weir and the SGC. We can go back through the gate tomorrow morning. Dr. Lam will probably want to keep you for a few days, but then you can stay at my place."

John just nodded, afraid to speak.

***

John woke to the most delicious smell. It was almost enough to get him out of bed, if the sharp pain in his gut hadn't stopped him. He flopped down against the pillows, disgusted with himself and with his body's weakness. This was why he didn't want to carry - to have his freedom constrained by a swollen pouch. He sighed, grabbing the radio Cam had left on the bedside table. "Cam? I'm awake."

John was surprised when not Cam, but Wendy Mitchell, Cam's mother, came bustling into Cam's guest room, holding a tray out in front of her.

"Mrs. Mitchell," John forced on his most polite smile, wondering what had happened to Cam. "I thought you were in Kansas."

She laughed, setting the tray down in front of John. "It's not that long a drive. Cam told me all about what happened and I just couldn't let him deal with it all by himself. I know he puts up a strong front, but he's been worried sick about you and the baby. It was the least I could do to come over here and help out. Cam's brother, Linsey, is in town helping Frank hold down the fort, so don't you worry."

John found himself blushing. He could see where Cam got all his country charm. "You didn't have to."

"Nonsense, dear, I wanted to come. My baby's having a baby, and with an imperial, too! I never would have imagined." John knew she was trying to be sweet but he grimaced anyhow. He was just a person, not some pleb family's way into the circle of nobility. He knew that Mrs. Mitchell didn't mean it that way. Even before, when John was with Leo, she had always been so nice to him. But John was tired of being idolized for his looks and his title. He'd much rather be just some guy than the imperial who was still serving despite the fact that his service was long since up.

"I didn't imagine either," John replied, regretting it the moment it left his mouth.

"Oh," Mrs. Mitchell said, turning away from John to fuss with the items on the tray. "Well, I made you a good old fashioned pot pie. My mother's recipe. She used to always make it for me when I wasn't feeling well."

"I didn't mean it like that," John corrected. Cam was a good man and his family was great. They should only think the best of him. "I mean, the baby was an accident. A good accident."

Mrs. Mitchell beamed. "So, when's the wedding, then? I read that in noble tradition a carrier has until the baby's first peek out of the pouch to marry someone else before the donor can claim him as a husband. I hope that you two will have an actual ceremony, though."

John groaned inwardly. He'd forgotten all about the right of implied devotion. "I don't know. We haven't really discussed it. Cam told you I've been stationed on a classified, remote base."

"Where you were in a plane crash. I just don't understand you nobles and how you can stay in a combat zone when you know you are carrying a child. I seems wrong to me."

John shrugged. "It's because, especially with royal carriers, the chances that a neonate will be viable are relatively low. We choose not to put too much stake in it until we know for sure."

"Well, I'm glad you're taking good care of yourself now. Cam went to the store to pick up a few things. But when he gets back I want you both to nap. I don't think he's slept more than a couple hours since he heard what happened to you."

John nodded, digging into his pot pie. That didn't surprise him. Cam hated situations out of his control as much as John did. And John was pretty much drowning with his helplessness in this situation. He forced himself to focus on the pot pie. "This is wonderful."

"Thank you. I'll be here as long as the two of you need me." She gave him a kiss on the forehead before leaving.

The pot pie really was spectacular, but John didn't know how he felt about Mrs. Mitchell hanging around to help him out. Especially not with John's father flying in for the labor.

It wasn't long before Cam poked his head in the door. Now that John really looked, he could see the tired edge to Cam's bright smile. "Hey there, Sunshine."

He removed the tray from John's lap. "Pee break?"

John nodded, allowing Cam to help him up. John clenched his teeth against the soreness in his body, leaning on Cam more than he'd like to admit. He was winded by the time Cam lowered him gently back to the bed. Cam quickly checked the device on John's stomach and they were both relieved to find it still blinking steadily with the baby's heartbeat. "This sucks," John whined, catching his breath.

"Tell me about it," Cam replied. "But Teyla is safe and you rescued an entire civilization, so maybe it's just a job well done."

"If only I could do my job without being stuck in bed."

"The doctors say you'll be good as new in a few weeks."

"Just in time for the transfer. Then it's only a month or so before I balloon up."

"But you won't be stuck in bed then. I'll make sure you stay entertained." With that, Cam pulled over a shopping bag John hadn't even noticed, pulling out a Wii, a giant stack of games, an iTV, some comic books, and a copy of Anna Karenina. "I'll install the PS3 from the living room in here too so I can kick your ass at Grant Theft Auto."

"You wish."

John startled when Cam pulled back the covers and slid in next to him. "Mama says I should rest. I gave her the master bedroom, so I hope you don't mind if I stay here with you."

John gulped. Not that he hadn't shared a bed with Cam, long before they'd even slept together. But it seemed strange to do it now. John wished he could say he wasn't tempted, but laying back, with Cam's warmth pressed up against his aching muscles, John couldn't lie to himself. He wasn't in love, but a part of him still wanted Cam and the comfort he represented.

Cam turned his head to the side, nuzzling John's neck a little, without kissing. Still, it was too intimate for friends.

"Your mother thinks we're going to get married," John blurted out. He still didn't have the willpower to pull away. Cam's caresses felt too damn good. He knew their relationship was missing a lot - passion, heat, the desperation John felt being away from Rodney. But Cam was comfort, stability, unconditional love, support and John soaked it up like parched ground did the first autumnal rain.

"Are we?" Cam asked, bolder now, kissing delicately along John's jawline.

John sighed, turning into a soft, chaste kiss that he refused to let Cam deepen. "What about Rodney? You want me to just forget about him?" John remembered Cam and Rodney's little cock fight in the birthing ward. Cam always played it so cool. He was a nice guy, but John was afraid of what he'd do if pushed too far. John had to remind himself that this wasn't just a happy accident for Cam; Cam wanted John.

"No. But I don't think it's fair to string him along either." Cam was kissing down John's chest now, a hand in John's hair, massaging his scalp.

"Who says I'm stringing him along?" John pushed Cam back, making it clear that his attentions were not wanted, even though a part of John cried out at the lost touch.

"Are you going to marry him to keep the right of implied devotion from going into effect? How is that fair to any of us?"

John shrugged. "Maybe I want to marry him."

Cam shook his head. "I've known you for too long to believe that, John. If you wanted to marry McKay, you would have done it long before you slept with me. If you wanted him to be the donor of your children, you would've gone to him when you were stuck on Earth."

"You don't know that," John snapped, though he secretly feared Cam might be right. John and Rodney had a connection from the moment they met, but neither had acted on it until John started carrying. Did he go to Rodney then because if he had to settle down, he wanted to have been with Rodney first? Or maybe a life with Rodney was only moderately better than a life on Earth with Cam. Rodney had seemed irresistible the night when he'd seduced John, but John hadn't intended to make any promises. Rodney just kept looking at him with that awful hurting expression and John couldn't help but tell him he loved him most of all. On the other hand, John certainly hadn't meant to make any promises to Cam when they'd fucked over beer and bourbon and John's stupid, messed-up life.

Cam sighed, collapsing back onto the bed next to John. "Mama's gonna be so disappointed. She was already planning the wedding." Cam fixed John with those beautiful, bright eyes of his, allowing John to read the sadness in them. "If you don't want to marry me and you don't want to marry McKay, I'm not going to call on the right of implied devotion."

"I'm not even sure it applies to plebs, but thanks." John reached over and squeezed Cam's hand.

"But if you wanted to marry me," Cam added, "I wouldn't say no."

John smiled, flattered, even though he could do without Cam's little crush. "That a proposal?"

"I think I've put myself out there enough for today. Tell me you'll say yes; then I'll propose."

"You're a good man." John turned himself onto his side, with a groan, resting his head on Cam's shoulder and letting his casted wrist fall across Cam's stomach. "You're too good a man to want to marry me." John was well aware that he was stringing both Rodney and Cam along in a lot of ways, even though he loved them both and wanted to do right by the two of them. It was probably best for everyone to stay away from John Sheppard and his fucked up psyche.

Cam pulled John even closer, tracing circles on his back. "You're better than you give yourself credit for, John. Seriously, no hero worship or bonus points for you top gun antics, or your nobility, but I would be honored to marry you. And no, that's not a proposal."

John chuckled, but the weight of his injuries and the painkillers he'd swallowed with the pot pie were already dragging him under. "Your mother told us little boys to take a nap."

"Sounds like a plan."

John was asleep in seconds, comfortable in the warm circle of Cam's arms.

***

John's father had always been a formidable presence, but in this moment, he looked completely disarmed. "Johnny, why didn't you tell me you were in such a condition?" he managed after a moment staring at his son. Even after three weeks, much of the bruises had faded to an ugly yellow, but John's wrist was still in a cast and he was still confined to bed except for short trips to the bathroom and mealtimes.

John winced. Even though his father was showing concern, John had hoped that the first words out of his mouth wouldn't be angry. "It's traditional not to tell your father about the gestation until just before the transfer."

"Not about the gestation!" Patrick Sheppard scoffed. "That you were so injured. I would have called one of the Guild's specialists for you, set you up at the estate instead of making you suffer such a plebeian residence."

"I like my doctors," John protested. "They're using an experimental treatment to protect the neonate from my injuries." John would prefer not to deal with his father's noble guild. He'd hated those stuff-shirts from childhood and he wouldn't give them the satisfaction of turning to them now.

"The Guild doctors helped your brother carry two children with the most advanced medical treatments." John remembered Dave's first incubation and all the foul smelling belly creams he'd used to prevent stretching. John could do without their high class scams. "I'll call one of them over to consult."

"That's really not necessary, father," John replied, hating that he was still supposed to stay in bed, even though he felt fine. The only thing John hated more than being helpless was being helpless in front of his father. Thank god Cam's entrance stopped Patrick from going for his cell phone.

"Mr. Sheppard," Cam shook John's father's hand. The fact that Cam had a firm handshake would probably be the only thing Patrick would like about him. "It's good to finally meet you."

"And you are?" Patrick asked, his indifference as stifling as John remembered it.

"Lieutenant Colonel Cameron Mitchell. I'm the donor of John's baby."

John winced. His second full sentence and Cam had already put his foot in it.

Patrick raised a well-manicured eyebrow. "Another plebeian, John? I thought you would've outgrown such a thing after the last one."

"Dad--" John had meant to tell his father to at least leave Leo out of this. After all these years, the wounds still felt rubbed raw, but Patrick interrupted, speaking to Cam, "I know it's too much to expect that you would be trained in all the social graces, but it is a neonate. After the transfer it will be a baby, but with such mixing I wouldn't get your hopes up."

John didn't even bother to correct the faulty genetics involved in that statement. While a ZY carrier and a plebeian had less than a 50% chance of producing a viable neonate, an imperial had the same chances with a pleb as he did with a noble. He remembered what Leo had said: 'So what if he's old and classist? Let him die happy and take his prejudices with him.' Maybe John was too fond of denial, but he liked that plan.

Cam's smile turned brittle, but he kept smiling, which was a hell of a lot better than John would've done in his place. "My mistake. Is there anything I can get for you, Mr. Sheppard?"

Patrick looked around Cam's guest bedroom with pointed disdain before replying, "A stiff drink."

Cam nodded, leaving John alone with his father.

"Don't worry, son, I have a few contacts that will be perfect for you. You're getting older, but you should be fertile enough while carrying that you won't have to lower yourself to be a secundus."

"Um, dad, that's not really necessary."

"You're saying that you want to marry this plebeian?" Patrick snorted.

"Cam is a decorated military officer who's done more good for the world than you could imagine. He's a better man than you."

"But he's not our sort, John, and I think you know that." Patrick didn't even blink, using the exact same tone he'd used to force John to attend Harvard and to forbid him from marrying Nancy. John had resisted that tone every time Patrick insisted that John finish his military commitment and when he'd insisted that John dump Leo. But John knew he had to give in when the old man was right - at least partially.

"I'm not marrying Cam. He promised not to claim his Right and I trust him."

"I'm not worried about a devotion claim from a plebeian, John. My lawyer would welcome such an easy case. I'm worried that you're too mature to find a suitable donor as a single parent."

"Look, Dad, I don't want to marry anyone! I'm not cut out for it."

"You wanted to marry that woman, John," his father chided. Patrick never did get over the whole Nancy thing. In retrospect, John was glad he and Nancy didn't get married, because it would've been a disaster for reasons other than their reproductive incompatibility, which was all his father seemed to care about. He'd never once cared if John was happy.

"That was a long time ago," John snapped. He couldn't take this argument again - not when he had much bigger things to worry about.

"And you're obviously not a Henry. You can and do sleep with people of both genders like a normal person. Therefore the whole thing was absolutely pointless."

"You would've been okay with it if I was?"

"John, you know I feel for those poor queers."

"Because you are one?" John snapped, watching his father's eyes flash with furry.

"I did my duty. You're here, aren't you?"

"And you've never let me forget it," John mumbled under his breath. John had only met his donor by his own initiative. The man wasn't a monster that deserved the hatred in his father's voice every time he spoke about John's conception. Nicholas Andreou was a stereotypical puttering classics professor at Harvard, completely harmless. He'd been the only person John could go to for support during his time there, despite the classcism he and John's father shared.

But he'd told John about his conception one night, while they both sipped brandy in his quiet Boston townhouse. Patrick had already met John's mother at that point, but after four months of trying she hadn't conceived. Patrick was concerned he might be an imperial, back before they could chromosome test. So he'd used the Guild to contact potential suitors in the old way, even though it was the sixties and few people used matching services anymore. They had spent enough time together for Nicholas to love Patrick, but Patrick had been a queer who couldn't stand to make love to a man, even though he forced himself several times, hoping for a child. John knew that deep down, Patrick saw his conception as rape, not an act of creation, even though he had been the one to force it. Then, after his slit opened up, Patrick had never seen Nicholas again, marrying John's mother before Nicholas could claim his Right as John's donor. John's mother finally got pregnant with Dave only six months later.

"Forget it, dad. We've had this argument too many times." In reality, John doubted if his father could ever forget how John had been conceived. John tried to imagine what it would be like to not be attracted to both men and women. Could sex out of love or at least mutual affection ever be so bad as to make you resent your own child for close to forty years? How could such a trivial thing put John in so much debt that nothing short of being his father's perfect little imperial could ever make up for the trauma of his conception?

But, to John's surprise, Patrick sighed, stepping closer to his son and bending to give him a hug. "You're right, son. I'm here because it won't be long before you transfer and I should be here for you like I wasn't last time."

John had always wondered what would have been different if Patrick had supported John's engagement to Leo. John would have told him about the gestation, probably, and Patrick would have used his considerable influence to get John and Leo home so he could be there for the transfer. Leo never would have gone on that mission and maybe John would have taken the golden parachute back to civilian life and they might have lived happily ever after. But then John never would have gone to Atlantis or met Rodney or conceived this child with Cam, and John was surprised to find himself wondering which would be better. Obviously he'd want any future where Leo didn't have to die over anything else, but John was happy now, maybe happier than he every would've been married to Leo.

"Thanks, dad."

John smiled and they both decided that uncomfortable silence was the better part of valor and waited for Cam to return.

Neither was expecting him to arrive with a Scotsman instead of a good scotch.

"Carson!" John exclaimed. "I didn't expect to see you here."

"Couldn't bloody well leave my favorite patient, now could I? Besides, you'll need someone with the gene for the procedure. And it's that rest day Dr. Weir insisted on. I would've just gone fishing anyhow, but I'd much rather witness a medical miracle." Wait, if it was a rest day, then couldn't Rodney have come too? John really hoped his lover was just busy secretly working, not mad at him. He played over their last interactions in his head, realizing that in his worry about the neonate and the pain he hadn't been very attentive. He'd only given Rodney a brief hug goodbye before going with Cam back through the wormhole. Someone else might have realized that John's condition didn't really allow him to worry about their own delicate ego, but of course Rodney would take John's simple haze of pain personally. Rodney probably thought he wasn't welcome.

"Good to see you've at least employed a doctor with the proper degree of respect for pedigree," Patrick remarked. "I'm John's father, Patrick. And you are?"

Carson didn't entirely succeed at hiding his contempt for Patrick's words, but he smiled and shook John's father's hand anyway. "Dr. Carson Beckett."

"Of the Edinburgh Becketts?"

"Yes. How'd you know?" Carson looked downright suspicious now. John would've laughed if he wasn't so busy being embarrassed by his father's classcism.

"I spent a summer up in Glasgow volunteering as a page for the annual Guild meeting. The Becketts were a very prominent family."

Carson blushed. John didn't know anybody who was less into the tradition of nobility than Carson, whose only interest in Guilds was to obtain family records for his ATA research. "I suppose so. I never really paid attention to those things."

John watched his father struggle to find a balance between contempt for Carson's trivialization of nobility and desire to behave properly towards a member of one of the important families. "I remember Gavan Beckett speaking on the final day of the meeting. He was a very powerful voice for the formation of international guilds."

"Yes, Great Uncle Gavan." At least Carson brightened up at the mention of his family. "I only met him at family gatherings, but he always had a lot of wisdom. I didn't see too much of the family, you see." John remembered the story, Carson sobbing drunkenly on his shoulder one night the first year when he began to doubt they could survive in Pegasus. Carson's father had died when he was very young. He had been a royal carrier who had lived with a wife and a secundus. After his death, the secundus took the two children he had carried as was his right as their name giver and two of the sons Carson's father had carried. Carson's mother took Carson's two sisters and Carson, even though she had no genetic relationship to him. The secundus never forgave her for it, which had made family relations so tense that Carson mostly ended up taking care of his grieving mother. Maybe that was why he didn't seem to even know most of the noble tradition that had been force-fed to John since childhood.

"What a shame. Gavan Beckett was a remarkable man."

Carson looked a little teary eyed, even though his uncle had probably passed away long ago, but luckily Cam always knew when to step in and save a conversation. John was generally too busy being paralyzed by the terrifying prospect of tears. "So, when do we get this show on the road? I'm eager to see my son."

"Son?" Patrick asked before Carson could answer. "Wishful thinking, I'm sure."

"Actually, we've had access to some classified technology that revealed the sex of the child." Calling Rodney's half-ascended vision classified technology was a bit of stretch, but John didn't want his father to get on Cam's case more than he already had.

"A royal, I'm assuming, due to his donor's pedigree."

"Yes, that is scientifically correct," Carson conceded. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'd like to check a few things before we begin the labor."

John submitted to Carson's poking and prodding. All the bed rest had done some good after all, considering that Carson's probing hands only produced a muted soreness instead of screaming pain. Carson even pulled out an LSD to do a detailed scan on the pretense that it was a palm pilot containing John's charts.

They all relaxed from tension of the past two and half weeks when Carson announced, "Everything looks good. I think it's time to induce."

"Why don't you just let the neonate transfer when it's ready?" Patrick asked. "That's the way carriers have been giving birth for generations."

"I would, except that as you can see, John has gone through a serious amount of physical trauma. We used experimental technology to delay the transfer until the very end of his labor window so that he'd been able to heal enough to incubate."

"Experimental treatment? Is this what they're doing to you in the Air Force, son? Using you for experiments? I won't stand for--"

"Dad," John interrupted, "without the experimental treatment, the neonate would be dead and I might've been dead too."

Patrick sobered, nodding to give Carson permission to do something he had no right to authorize. John was beginning to forget the reasons he wanted his father here for this.

"Well," Carson said, reaching out to press his hand to the device on John's stomach, careful to keep it hidden from Patrick's prying eyes. "Here goes nothing."

***

So far it had gone pretty much like a normal labor, though John didn't exactly have a frame of reference for that and had to take Patrick's assurances. First, John had started feeling a little nauseous, his mind turning inwards even as he listened to his father and Mrs. Mitchell make incredibly awkward small talk or Carson and Cam compare notes on John's past deeds. At some point, after Patrick had returned to his hotel, Carson to the sofa and Mrs. Mitchell to the bedroom, John was overcome with the pathological desire to be near Cam, panicking when he left for even a second to say goodnight to his mother.

Cam, the bastard, had almost been giddy when John dragged him down to the bed and curled around him, whispering, "Don't leave me," over and over again like a child. But Cam had stroked John's back, promising never to leave, that this labor would be over soon and done right in the comfort of their home and not on a battlefield. Even though Cam assured John that this feeling was just labor sickness talking, John couldn't let go. "I'll marry you if you promise not to leave me," he begged, sure that any moment Cam would walk out the door and it would be like Leo all over again - he'd lose them both.

But Cam had just shushed him, holding him close and telling him that he wouldn't make that kind of deal, but he'd stay because he wanted to and John would just have to trust him.

"I trust you," John had whispered. Then, later, "I'm scared. What if--"

But Cam didn't let him voice his fears about his last failed transfer or the Pasteur rupture or any of the stupid things all expectant fathers thought as the nervously awaited the transfer. Cam just held John until they both finally fell into a fitful sleep.

The cloacal cleanse had been strange and John wondered how sick he had been to not have noticed it the first time around. And John's father brought a sweet smelling salt for John to soak with in the bath before covering him with the robe Patrick had worn when he transferred John. Patrick led John to rest on special sheets with Cam behind him, propping him up.

The contractions were easier this time - maybe because John had just felt so much pain three weeks ago. But he thought the real reason was that he had Cam and his father and Carson and Mrs. Mitchell here this time, all believing that it would turn out fine. John found himself believing along with them.

"It's coming," Carson announced, cheating by looking down at the LSD screen. John's father was too focused holding John's hand and performing some traditional blessing for them to bother with any charades.

John could feel it, leaning back against Cam's solid body, completely unashamed of his nudity or the fact that Mrs. Mitchell seemed determined to get the whole thing on tape. The contraction washed through him, not so much pain as an incredible tension, almost like that beautiful, terrible moment just before orgasm when everything clenched tight before the release. He panted, intertwining his fingers with Cam's. "No matter what happens," he whispered in Cam's ear. "I'm glad we did this. I'm happy it's you."

Cam acknowledged it with a soft kiss to John's cheek, before another contraction hit, this one painful, with John gasping and pushing back into Cam with a whimper. Those hands were steady holding John as they were on the joystick of an F-302.

"Push, lad. You're doing great."

John nodded, giving in to one final wave of pain, before it suddenly stopped. Everything seemed surreal then, like the surfer's paradise at the top of a wave, looking out over the bright blue sea, time slowed by joy and terror and a healthy dose of wonder too.

"John, look," Cam commanded, squeezing John's hand.

John couldn't help but obey, looking down to see the most amazing thing. "Our son."

Neonates weren't pretty. They looked only vaguely human - pink and wrinkled and out-of-proportion, with closed eyes and a strange worm-like crawl. But John would've sworn that this was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen. The baby who he'd worried about for the past three weeks was there moving both slowly and incredibly fast up John's hairy belly and towards his pouch.

"Look at him," Cam whispered. "He's strong already."

John could only nod, mesmerized by the small movements of this thing that until a moment ago had only been an idea, a desperate desire to not repeat past wrongs. But now it was real, not just because tradition said so, but because John could see it. He loved it even more now.

It took only two minutes to reach John's pouch, and he gasped at the sensation of it tickling at the slit.

"Bye, baby," Cam said. "See you in about six months."

John waited another five minutes, to give the neonate time to start suckling before he finally allowed himself to rest against Cam. It was strange. He'd felt the neonate crawl to the nipple and latch on, but he couldn't feel the suckling, something which Carson and his father both assured him was completely normal.

Carson ran a few more scans with the LSD and Patrick and Wendy both offered John congratulations before he and Cam were alone again.

"If you want, I can go," Cam offered, though it was blindingly obvious that it hurt him to even suggest it.

John grinned, feeling the adrenaline crash and exhaustion finally set in. "Naw. I must still be labor sick, because I really want you to stay."

With Cam's help, John managed to slide down on the bed on his side to curl up against Cam's chest.

"You did good, John. You made us a baby." Cam's fingers were in John's hair and Cam's lips were soft on his. John felt so peaceful and content in this moment that he completely forgot that he wasn't supposed to be kissing Cam.

John smiled sleepily, nuzzling closer to his son's donor. "You helped." He forced his eyes open for a second, caught up in a sudden sense of urgency. "Need to tell you. Thank you. For your help." Not just for putting up with John needy and labor sick, or reading to him during those long weeks confined to bed, or for weathering John's inconsistent affection. "Thanks for being you." Cam was someone that John could trust and truly believe in. "And thanks for giving me a son."

"No, John, thank you," Cam replied, one hand coming up to rest on John's stomach. "Thank you."