Rodney McKay crossed his arms and stared at the trio of young men standing in the infirmary.
"Is this at all weird for you?" he asked Sheppard, who was lounging against a bed nearby.
"Not especially," Sheppard answered, but then Sheppard's definition of "weird" had grown more and more specific the longer they'd spent in Atlantis.
"That one's gotta be thirty," Rodney pointed out. "Have you been lying about your age?"
"Keller says it's meta-cloning," Sheppard replied, eyes on the eldest of the three. "It's science-y. They've been doing blood draws on me for ATA for a long time, way before I knew I had the gene. I guess he was one of the first successful ones."
"So you never knew his mother?"
"I never knew their mothers," Sheppard replied. He looked so relaxed about this, like finding out you were the stud of an ATA breeding program without your prior knowledge was just something that happened once in a while.
The oldest, Neal, was taller than the others; he'd already been assessed and assigned into the new exploration team as a diplomatic adjunct, and had his nose buried in one of Rodney's "Stargate Travel For Idiots" manuals. The other two were mostly of a height, though not much alike in other respects: Zane Donovan, who'd actually written some not entirely moronic papers on Lorentzian wormhole theory, and Tim Somethingorother -- Duck? Drake? -- who was apparently an acrobat.
Then again, Neal and Zane both had extensive criminal records, so Rodney supposed everyone had their crosses to bear.
The three men -- well, Tim was still a teen, really, and Rodney had interacted enough with the other two to diagnose them as fundamentally emotionally stunted, not that this was a surprise given who their father was -- at any rate, the three of them did share a handful of characteristics: narrow and reasonably intelligent faces, unruly dark hair (managed a little better in Neal's case), a certain slow drawl. Zane looked most like his father, but the designer stubble wasn't really working for him.
Rodney caught Zane staring at him. He squared his jaw and stared back. When Keller came over to them, Zane trailed in her wake; Neal was busy rough-housing with Tim.
"Well, all three of them are healthy, reasonably nice guys, and definitely your sons," Keller said to Sheppard, who grinned. "I think this whole situation is incredibly disturbing, but they won't make a bad addition to Atlantis. A team of little Sheppards," she added, glancing over her shoulder at Neal and Tim, while Zane hovered around McKay like he wanted to ask if he could have his autograph. "Neal's an ideal diplomat, and Tim -- " she paused and looked back again as a pained yelp cut across the room. Tim, half Neal's height and probably a third of his weight, had the older man pinned to the floor and was ordering him to say Uncle. "Tim's a deceptively good bodyguard," she said. "And Zane here -- "
"When do I get to look at a Stargate?" Zane blurted. Rodney blinked at him. "Seriously, I have a zillion questions. How do you factor in for electron fluctuations during the inception event on the negative polarized gate? We can't even arrange that with non-Lorentzian wormhole effects back home."
" -- is obviously a qualified physicist," Keller finished.
"Zane," Sheppard said. The young man looked at him. "You just met your brothers. Play nice and be patient. You don't want Dr. McKay to think you have no manners, do you?"
"Are you scared of Dad Sheppard?" Keller whispered to Rodney.
"Not a little bit," Rodney whispered back.
Zane crossed his arms defiantly. "You can't make me."
"Zane!" Sheppard said sharply. "Go behave or you can't talk to Dr. McKay."
Zane, deflated, walked back to where Neal and Tim were now sitting on the floor discussing lockpicking techniques.
"You just have to be firm with them," Sheppard said. "So. Do we have another little me-clone running around to play leader, or do I get to take the boys out in the field?"
"Well." Keller checked her data pad. "There are two more coming in from the international branch. I can't believe we have an international branch of the John Sheppard's Test Tube Baby Association."
"Excuse me," someone said from the doorway. "I'm looking for Dr. Keller?"
The man who had spoken was young; he looked out-of-place in Atlantis, in his three-piece suit and a vivid pink shirt, and he spoke with an almost lilting accent. Next to him stood a slightly shorter woman, wearing an awful lot of leather. Both of them had the trademark Sheppard hair, though the woman's was rather more orderly than her companion's. Rodney gaped.
"That's me," Keller said, beaming. "You must be the last two we were expecting."
"Your daughter is hot," Rodney whispered to Sheppard.
"Touch her and I'll cut off your arm," Sheppard answered.
"Gwen Cooper," the woman said, offering Keller her hand. She had the same accent as the man had, at least as far as Rodney could tell. "This is Ianto Jones."
"Hello, kids," Sheppard drawled. He looked way too entertained by all this. "Come meet the family."
"Jesus Christ, that's a big gun," Neal said, staring at the P-90 Sheppard was holding. "How do you walk with a gun that big?"
"You think you're funny, but you're not," Rodney told him.
"Seriously, no, that's a big gun, and me and guns don't get along well. Even little guns," Neal continued, but he winked at Rodney.
They were standing on the firing range, the Sheppard kids in a loose and semi-disinterested crowd around Sheppard, who was trying to demonstrate basic firearms safety.
"You have to carry a gun, Neal," Gwen said.
"You aren't the boss of me, I'm oldest," Neal told her.
"And so very mature," Ianto drawled.
"Kids," Sheppard said, in almost precisely the same tone. Ianto glanced at him, clearly unsettled. "Neal, take the gun."
Neal stepped forward, reluctant, and took the P-90 out of Sheppard's hands. Before the other man could give him an order he'd dropped the magazine, checked it, reloaded it, cleared the barrel, pulled the safety, taken aim, and fired. The target showed a dead-center hit.
Neal popped the safety back on and offered it back.
Sheppard's eyebrows were somewhere around his hairline. Even Ianto, the best poker face of the group, looked vaguely impressed.
"Chip off the old block," Neal said drily.
"Watch it," Sheppard warned him. Zane had authority issues, huge authority issues, but they were generalized and universally applied. Neal's authority issues had a certain laserlike focus, and at the moment they were all heaped on Sheppard. "Okay. Hands up everyone who's already had weapons training in a previous career?"
Every hand went up except Zane's. Zane looked mildly embarrassed.
"Right," Sheppard said, and tossed the P-90 to Ianto. "Train him. Zane, you're a genius, so if you stall I'll know."
"Yes, sir," Ianto said, looking pleased, and hauled Zane off to another target booth. Sheppard crossed his arms.
"I really don't like guns," Neal said.
"Why?" Gwen asked. "Guns are brilliant."
"Are you sure we're related?" Neal asked Sheppard, who rubbed his forehead.
"Fine. Okay," Sheppard said. "Neal, go find Teyla. If she clears you in hand-to-hand -- "
"Hand-to-hand!" Neal exclaimed. "What the hell kind of place are you running here?"
"You need it," Tim said. "It's way too easy to kick your ass."
"I prefer not to be in situations where my ass is likely to get kicked!"
Rodney patted Sheppard's shoulder as the other man covered his eyes with one hand.
"Parenthood is full of challenges," he said sympathetically.
After Rodney kicked Zane out of his lab that afternoon for being an overgrown puppy who couldn't stop touching stuff, he caught Zelenka laughing at him.
"What?" he demanded, and Zelenka composed himself hurriedly.
"No, nothing," Zelenka said.
"You think it's funny there are now six Sheppards running around poking my experiments?" Rodney asked.
"No! I swear, is just little thing," Zelenka insisted. Rodney glared. Zelenka started to laugh again.
"You are fired from the Pegasus Galaxy," Rodney told him.
"Okay, all right, I will tell you," Zelenka said, still suppressing the odd giggle. "I just think is nice, you know, they have mother and father here on Atlantis."
"They -- what?" Rodney asked.
"You have not noticed?" Zelenka raised his eyebrows. "All of them, they have your eyes."
Rodney looked at him, horrified. "No they don't!"
"Is true. Is empirical evidence, Rodney. All of them, blue eyes." Zelenka grinned. "Not Colonel Sheppard's eyes, ano? You look after them when he is not around?"
"That's probably just some...byproduct of the process!"
"Really? Cloning, it makes blue eyes? I think not. No, is useful! Very Darwinian," Zelenka continued. "Baby looks like mother, mother does not strangle child when it is annoying."
"Funny, you have blue eyes and I feel like I could strangle you pretty easily," Rodney said.
"My advice is, do not spoil them," Zelenka told him gravely. "Can cause many problems in relationships, parents at odds over child-rearing."
"Out!" Rodney yelled. Zelenka strolled calmly to the door. "I am not Mommy Sheppard!"
"We see," Zelenka yelled back from the hallway. "Good afternoon, Mother McKay!"
Dinner was a fascinating affair. People stared and whispered.
Sheppard, looking weary, led the string of dark-haired newcomers down the food line. They were all in the standard Atlantis uniform, some much more comfortable in it than others; Neal wore his like he was made for it, but Ianto seemed like he was yearning for a suit, and Tim didn't look like he was entirely comfortable with pants.
"So," Neal said, when they were all seated. Sheppard and Rodney exchanged a look. "Wales, huh?"
"Cardiff," Gwen replied, as Ianto made a pained noise after sipping his coffee. "Technically we were both born in Newport. Worked together for a while before coming here. Small world, eh?"
"This coffee is..." Ianto looked like he didn't know a word bad enough. Zane was already halfway through his cup.
"So what did you do before the terrifying secret government agents showed up on your doorstep to tell you that you were a freaky half-clone?" Neal asked.
"We were terrifying secret government agents," Ianto said.
"Really?" Tim asked. "Were you villains?"
"No, I don't think we were villains exactly," Gwen said. "We had a brilliant lair, though. You?"
"My lair was awesome," Tim said, beaming. "Both of them, actually. What about you, Zane?"
"I more had a laboratory than a lair," Zane mused. "I mean, it was top-secret and all, but government-funded, which kind of takes the fun out."
"Neal?" Gwen prompted. Neal gave them a grin.
"Wouldn't you like to know," he said, and Tim threw a bread roll at him. "Fine, fine. No. I didn't have a lair or a lab. I had a loft."
"A loft," Gwen repeated.
"Yeah, you know. A big open-plan apartment," Neal said, and then noticed everyone was looking at him funny. "What?"
"No secret supercomputers?" Tim asked.
"Hey, you had one too?" Zane said.
"Ours was an AI," Ianto put in.
"I had a Dell," Neal said weakly.
"Did you have a mascot?" Ianto asked. Gwen elbowed him. "What?"
"You just want to brag about the pteranadon," she said.
"That's a pretty cool mascot," Zane observed.
"There was this pug..." Neal said.
"Quit while you're ahead," Sheppard told him kindly.
"I'm trying," Neal said, through gritted teeth.
"Did you fight crime?" Tim continued.
"Yes, yes, I did some of that," Neal said, a little more thoughtful now. "So pretty much all of us are in, and I use the term very loosely, law enforcement? Of some kind?"
"Scientist!" Zane said, putting up his hand.
"Clearly the black sheep of the family," Neal replied, but he ruffled Zane's hair and ducked when Zane tried to retaliate. "The hair!"
"Zane, don't mess with your brother's style," Sheppard said, without looking up from his meal.
"He started it," Zane sulked.
"In this family," Sheppard announced, sitting back, "we have three rules. No messing with the style, no mouthing off to Dad, and no leaving each other behind to get eaten by alien vampires. Is that understood?"
"Yes, sir," they chorused.
"I could get used to this," Sheppard said to Rodney.
"Did...did you get your uniform tailored?" Rodney asked Neal the next day, when Neal showed up for breakfast with Ianto and Gwen in tow. "Where did you find a tailor on Atlantis?"
"I'm very good with a needle," Ianto answered for him.
"That's my boys," Sheppard said proudly.
Their first mission out on their own, without Rodney and Sheppard looking after them, Sheppard pretended he didn't care at all. Rodney saw through it, but this was all Sheppard's fault for being so very...Sheppardian, and passing that trait on. He had no sympathy.
The five of them came back through the Gate hot, Zane and Neal half-carrying Ianto, Gwen and Tim staggering through together, all of them laughing and covered with green goo. Sheppard descended the stairs slowly. The laughter ceased.
"What did you do?" he asked, sweeping them all from head to foot.
"His fault," Neal and Zane said simultaneously, pointing at each other.
"You picked the chief's pocket!" Zane said hotly.
"Only because I saw them about to handcuff you for hitting on his son!" Neal retorted. Gwen, from behind them, knocked their heads together, which made them both let go of Ianto. He was rescured from a tumble to the ground by Keller, who eased him onto a gurney.
"He's drugged," Tim said. "He'll be fine."
"I wasn't hitting on his son!" Zane protested. "Ow, Gwen, that hurt!"
Sheppard crossed his arms. They all looked at one another.
"It's paint," Gwen said, holding up a green-streaked hand.
"I can't wait to hear this story," Sheppard drawled.
"But," Zane added, "we did get..."
He checked his pockets. A look of dismay crossed his face.
"This," Neal said smoothly, holding up a small piece of technology. It glowed in his fingers. "Happy Father's Day," he added, and tossed it to Sheppard, who caught it and passed it to Rodney.
"Oooh," Rodney said, examining it. "It's a data crystal. Be right back, unlocking the mysteries of the Ancients," he said, and hurried away.
"I don't want to be leader anymore," Gwen announced. "My brothers are wankers."
"You should have met Sherlock," Rodney called.
"Sherlock?" Gwen asked.
"He failed the psych exam," Sheppard said shortly.
"These are the ones who passed?" Gwen asked.
"Not all of them aced it," Sheppard admitted. "You think any of them other than Ianto are qualified to do your job?" he added sternly. Gwen made a face. "That's right, so you and Ianto get to be leaders. Run along and clean up."
"I'm going to see what Rodney pulled off the crystal," Zane declared, and Sheppard caught him by the ear as he passed. "Ow, ow ow ow -- "
"Wash first. You're not getting green paint all over Rodney's lab," Sheppard ordered, releasing him. "Neal?"
"Why do I have to babysit Zane?" Neal asked.
"You're the oldest, and Tim might beat him up," Sheppard replied. "Make sure he scrubs behind his ears."
"I'm gonna have to save your ass every single time, huh?" Neal asked, as he and Zane disappeared into the hallway. Tim was already halfway to the showers. Gwen was still looking annoyed, standing in the middle of the gateroom floor.
"Hey, everyone came back alive," Sheppard told her. "Call it a win."
"I had better get a pony for Christmas," Gwen muttered, and stalked off. Samantha Carter came down the stairs to where Sheppard was standing, matching his pose -- arms crossed, staring at the gate contemplatively.
"You seem to be handling the dad thing well," she said.
"They're all mentally twelve," he replied.
"So you connect on their level?"
"Funny, Carter," Sheppard drawled.
"Are you disturbed yet?" she asked.
"Super-disturbed. I need a drink," he said, and headed for Zelenka's lab, where the scientists kept a secret vodka still in one of the cabinets.
Their tenth week in Atlantis, having been more or less at each others' throats for the entire time, Neal and Zane combined forces to steal a Jumper and hijack the Gate.
It wasn't Neal's usual style, Sheppard thought, as he stood in the gateroom and tried to decide what to do. Zane was self-destructive, or maybe just screaming for someone to kick his ass to show they cared, but Neal didn't like to commit crimes where he knew there would be repercussions. Then again, Sheppard could understand the temptation of Gating out to a planet where the inhabitants had achieved a 17th-century level of technology, and were applying all their passions and abilities towards fresco painting. Neal had fallen in love just from the report, and objected loudly when their team wasn't chosen for the exploration mission.
And really, using a jumper was the one sure way to get through an illegal Gate jump safely.
And you couldn't steal a jumper and run a DHD and avoid security on your own, you needed a wheel man.
Plus, under Poor Impulse Control in the dictionary, there was a picture of Zane Donovan and Neal Caffrey.
"So," Gwen said, walking into the gateroom, kitted out for a mission. "Point us after the bad boys."
"Excuse me?" Sheppard asked mildly. Ianto appeared behind her, carrying a tool kit.
"Retrieval," Gwen said. "We'll go dismember them and bring them home."
"You can't dismember them, I have dibs," Sheppard told her.
"Fine, we'll just maim them," Ianto said, checking through the kit. "I'd be willing to bet if you lot had stuck with the Welsh when you were cloning the Colonel this never would have happened," he added, to nobody in particular. "We're famous for our even tempers and delicious vowels, you know."
"And you're an ornament to Atlantis, but are you sure it should be you guys going?" Sheppard asked, as Tim joined them.
"Our family, our problem," Gwen said firmly.
Sheppard had been sure, at first, that Neal and Zane's wildness was a matter of nurture over nature, until he realized Tim was not the most self-controlled young man either. After Rodney pointed out a few of his own life-alteringly bad decisions, he'd been forced to admit that Gwen and Ianto probably had something to the thesis that what the Sheppard line needed, at the end of the day, was more Welsh.
"Where do you think you're going?" Sheppard asked, turning away from Gwen as Rodney emerged from the hallway in his mission uniform.
"With them?" Rodney said, as if this should be obvious.
"Why?" Sheppard asked.
"Um. Because if you go that reinforces parental attention for bad behavior, and people should share equally in disciplining the children, and frankly I'm better at yelling at people than you are," Rodney said, absently checking his rifle. Everyone stared at him. "What? I've been reading parenting books."
"This is so wrong, so many ways," Sheppard muttered, but he waved them on. "Go, go on, kick their asses, drag them home."
When they arrived home again, Tim and Gwen each had a black eye, Zane was wearing some kind of loose romantic-fashion shirt, Ianto was carrying a small sack, and Neal was covered in wet plaster and paint and beaming happily.
Rodney didn't even stop yelling at them as they passed through the gate.
Sheppard crossed his arms. "What happened this time?"
"Duel," Tim said.
"Overzealous artist wanted me to sit for a nude," Gwen added.
"This is awesome!" Zane waved a frilly sleeve.
"Coffee," Ianto sighed.
"True fresco is the test of any artist," Neal declared.
Rodney just looked at him wearily.
"You two," Sheppard said, pointing at Neal and Zane. "Grounded for a month."
"Worth it," Zane sing-songed, and Neal smacked him on the back of the head as they walked out.
Sheppard sighed. "Ianto, go look after Gwen and Tim. Tim, what have I told you about duelling?"
"Only if it's a matter of life and death and never over the honor of a woman, who can duel for herself if she's that upset about it," Tim recited.
"As Gwen has proved," Sheppard pointed out. Tim nodded and trooped out after Gwen and Ianto. Sheppard sighed and lowered himself to the gateroom steps.
"So, being the disciplinarian sucks," Rodney told him, joining him on the steps.
"Welcome to my world. Got any ideas about how to fix Neal and Zane?"
"Prefrontal lobotomy?" Rodney suggested.
"That seems radical," Sheppard replied. "What is up with them, anyway? Why can't they just be cool?"
"Maybe they need more Johnny Cash," Rodney drawled.
"What about your parenting books?"
"Pretty much full of subjectivist fad-pop-psych bullcrap," Rodney said. "But I think Neal and Zane are doing what's known as 'testing limits'. I find it totally unsurprising that the offspring of John Sheppard have trust issues."
"I do not have trust issues," Sheppard replied. "I just think most people are probably up to something."
"Look at it this way, at least now they're working together to try and get themselves killed, instead of trying to kill each other," Rodney said. "In my family, that's known as Significant Progress."
It generally took some time for arriving staff to settle into Atlantis and learn its little quirks. Sooner or later, someone always asked about exploration team 5-S.
"What's their story?" Dr. Dougall asked. The other biologists at his table looked at him and grinned.
"You don't know about 5-S?" Monroe said. "What makes you think they have a story?"
"Well, look at them," Dougall replied, as a roar of laughter burst from the table where 5-S were eating with Sheppard and McKay (everyone learned about Sheppard and McKay pretty quickly). "They're like...are they siblings?"
"Half," Peterson put in. "They're Sheppard's kids."
"He gets around," Dougall observed. "He doesn't look old enough to have five kids."
"It ages you before your time," Monroe agreed sagely. "They're good, though. Sheppard keeps 'em in line."
"Yeah, Donovan hasn't stolen anything in almost two months," Peterson said.
"Stolen anything?" Dougall asked. Monroe and Peterson exchanged glances.
"Here in Atlantis, we value lateral thinking," Peterson said, mock officiously. "Nobody thinks more laterally than John Sheppard's kids, trust me."