The full story of wee!John
Disclaimer: Stargate: Atlantis and all related items do not belong to me, only the stories and their related original ideas and characters are mine. No copyright infringement intended.
Spoilers: This fic runs from somewhere in season three and then promptly disregards canon. It does, however, imply a knowledge of canon up to and including “Sunday”.
Word Count: 30,670 words
You can find the masterlist of all wee!John fics here
Author Notes: This ‘verse started out as nothing more than a number in a ‘five things’ fic and grew larger than I could ever have anticipated. I was writing so many snippets that it didn’t take me long to realise that I wanted to tell the whole story. This was never really meant to be what it was, was never meant to take on a life of it’s own, but it did and I’m very glad. I hope you all enjoy.
Please note that you can read this fic without reading the snippets, but there are references to some events that you might wonder at, simply because I don’t go into them in too much detail here.
Please also note that this has NOT gone through a beta. Any and all mistakes are mine, please feel free to point them out and I’ll possibly change things when my brain starts to function again.
* * *
* * *
It happens like this; John smiles a little too sweetly at the wrong woman (and Rodney’s never sure there’s a right woman when it comes to Sheppard), stands a little too close to a revered Ancient temple and suddenly they find themselves bound and gagged in a small basement room on a backwater planet with no hope of rescue for at least two days. Rodney thinks that, perhaps, their team shouldn’t be allowed to handle trade negotiations. Teyla would argue that John, Rodney and Ronon should just not speak, but Rodney has so many issues with that idea that he wouldn’t know where to start. Or, rather, where to stop.
They’re there for one day and one very long night, stretched out on the floor as comfortably as they can be in a room that’s smaller than the en suite in Rodney’s sister’s guest room; which is to say that he spends the entire time with Ronon’s ass in his face and Teyla’s head butting against his (shoeless) feet. He somehow finds a way to make his complaints known, even through the gag, but then he is a genius after all. Even if it does nothing to alter the situation.
On the morning after the longest night of his life Version 19.0 (and this one is surpassed by a surprising number of them; although he debates whether his prom night goes just above or just below this – there’s nothing to be said for being four years younger than the rest of the graduating class), he and Sheppard are hauled up by the ropes binding their hands behind their backs. It’s painful and Rodney tells his captors this. Repeatedly. But they do nothing more than get increasingly rough with him and he shuts up about three seconds before he’s thrown into a hut and falls flat on his face.
It’s at this point that he notices that Sheppard’s not there and the extra gag they add doesn’t stand a chance of shutting him up.
* * *
If Rodney McKay had realised that this was a defining moment in the upcoming three years of his life, he might have taken a moment to pay a little more attention to what the idiotic locals were telling him. Instead he rants, he raves and he generally insults every village elder, every deity they’ve ever known, the kids who’re likely grow up to be village elders and everyone else in between. He even throws in the goat-like creatures they passed on the way into the village, just for good measure.
It’s only when he, Ronon and Teyla are being dropped off at the ‘Gate with a screaming child that Rodney thinks he might have missed something along the way.
* * *
“What do you mean this is Colonel Sheppard?”
“I don’t know how you expect me to be more clear than that, Rodney. Our tests conclude that that wee boy is the Colonel.”
Elizabeth takes a deep breath and lets out a resigned sigh. It’s a credit to just how fucked up their lives in Pegasus are, Rodney thinks, that she’s barely batting an eye at the situation. “Rodney, did the villagers say anything that might indicate how they did this, or even why?”
“Oh, yes, while we were being bound and gagged, they left the instruction manual and the secret diary of their insane plans out for me to look at!”
He lets out a huff of irritation. “I don’t know. It’s…possible I might have missed something they were saying, but they were unwashed, uneducated morons, so I’m sorry if I chose to ignore them after they kidnapped us and locked us in a basement.”
“Can you fix it?” Elizabeth asks, ignoring his ranting and he’s not sure if she’s talking to him or Carson until the Scot answers.
“There’s nothing more I can tell without further scans, but he seems to be a healthy wee boy. I’d say about two or three years old. I’m not really sure there’s anything I could do without knowing what caused this.”
“Do you have any idea what the machine looked like?” Elizabeth asks and Rodney barely manages to bite his tongue.
In fact he doesn’t. “What part of ‘we were dropped off at the ‘gate with it and held at spear point until we left’, was unclear?”
“Rodney,” Elizabeth says and she’s using her serious voice. Rodney rolls his eyes as she turns back to Carson. “Other than his age, there’s nothing wrong with him?”
“Not that I can tell and we’ve run every scan I can think of. He’s maybe a bit undernourished, but I’d guess that’s no different to the rest of his team. He should eat and maybe run off a wee bit of energy before bed. Other than that, it’s nothing a good night’s sleep won’t cure.”
Elizabeth nods. “Okay, I’m going to re-establish contact and see if I can’t negotiate for whatever did this. Until then-”
“Why can’t we just go back with bigger guns?” Ronon asks and, for once, Rodney’s in complete agreement with the man. Shooting the bastards actually sounds therapeutic.
Elizabeth doesn’t seem to agree. “I don’t think that’s the best way to start planetary relations with possible trading partners.”
“Trading partners? Are you insane?”
“Rodney, they have-”
“They turned Sheppard into a kid! A goofy looking kid with crazy hair and big eyes that does nothing but scream and cry. What could they possibly have for negotiations?”
“Well, I hear it tastes like coffee.”
“Oh, well that’s…I don’t care!” And, okay, so he does, but does Elizabeth actually think he’s that shallow? He shakes his head, feeling more hurt than he might have thought he would, but possibly less than he ought.
There’s a tug on the bottom of his uniform and he turns both ways before he realises it’s coming from below. When he looks down, he tries to keep the look of discomfort and sheer terror from his face.
“John,” the boy says slowly, pointing to himself and treating Rodney like a brain damaged ferret. “What’s you’ name?”
And, oh god, this is Sheppard and he has no idea who Rodney is.
“I’m…you really don’t know who I am?” Although even he’s not sure why the boy – Sheppard, damn it – would. He’s been turned into a child and, Rodney’s lack of paternal instinct aside, it’s clear that he’s regressed back to an age where clearly they didn’t know each other.
“A’ you my fend?”
“Am I your what?” Rodney asks, wondering if the aliens programmed another language into the boy’s head, because he knows that two- and three-year-olds can speak just fine, even if they have little of intelligence to say.
“Rodney,” Elizabeth says with an indulgent smile. “He wants to know if you’re his friend.”
“Oh,” Rodney clears his throat and looks at the kid, frowning. “Eh, yes, I suppose I am.”
Rodney pats little Sheppard’s head in a way he thinks is reassuring, but really isn’t. “Yes, yes, we rescued you.”
When the boy frowns, Elizabeth crouches to his eyelevel and he shrinks behind Rodney’s legs. “Are you three, John?” she asks and the light bulb goes off above Rodney’s head. “Is that what you’re telling us?”
The boy looks up at Rodney, as if asking for permission and Rodney nods. He’s a little confused, but he’s smart enough to know he doesn’t want the screaming to start again.
John nods. “I’m fwee and I’m John. Who’s you?”
“Litzabit, Litzbit…Lizbet?” John fumbles and Rodney smiles at him for the first time. He thinks he might have laughed, too, if the look on the three-year-old’s face didn’t look so painfully familiar.
“Not quite, but it’ll do,” Elizabeth says.
John tugs at Rodney’s uniform again and pokes him in the stomach. “Name.”
“Oh, I like that, she gets a question, I get a demand.”
“Yes, because being polite is so taxing.” The boy just glares. “Rodney,” he says with a resigned sigh.
“Wodney?” John asks.
The boy nods. “Wodney.”
And, yes, trust him to have a name that starts with the one letter the boy can’t say. He glares at Elizabeth and the others, just daring them to say anything, almost wishing one of them actually would laugh, because he’s got a lot of anger bubbling under the surface and even he’s not about to aim that at the three-year-old at his knees. And, oh God, Sheppard’s three years old.
He tunes out what the others are saying, barely notes that both Teyla and Ronon are re-introducing themselves to the Colonel, because the only words he can hear are the ones flailing about in his head like dying fish.
Who the hell is going to save them now?
* * *
The debriefing is, in a word, painful. Rodney’s lost count of the number of times he’s wanted to bang his head against the table in the hopes that it actually would cause him damage just so he could get the hell out of the room. Elizabeth is asking the same questions over and over, as if she’s expecting Rodney to suddenly say, ‘Wow, I’m so stupid, I’ve just remembered that the village elders actually gave me a training course on how to turn the Colonel back to normal. I’ll have him fixed by bed time’ and Carson…well, he tunes out what Carson’s going to say before the Scot even starts to speak, because he really doesn’t need to know what’s going on with the boy’s three-year-old bowel movements, or whether or not the brat has head lice.
That last thought has him looking rather alarmed at the crop of messy hair that’s brushing against his chin. He’s uncomfortably aware of the fact that he has no idea what to do, but it wasn’t really like he’d had much choice in the matter; the moment he’d sat down, the boy had finally let go of his leg and Rodney had barely let out his sigh of relief when the kid had clamboured onto his lap, wrapped himself around Rodney’s torso like a limpet and conked out the second his head hit Rodney’s shoulder. He figures the only thing that saved him from being mocked and laughed at was the pathetic, wide eyed expression of fear on his face. He’s gradually relaxed by degrees, but every time the kid makes a noise or moves he’s convinced the world’s about to end, just to complete this cosmic joke.
He jumps a little, wincing when the boy at his shoulder moves. He glares at Elizabeth as the kid settles again and then lets out an irritated huff. “What?”
“I said that I’m going to send Lorne’s team through the ‘Gate to Alekesh tomorrow. See if we can sort this out. I think it might be best if you three didn’t go back at this stage. It’s-”
“Wait a second, tomorrow?” he asks incredulously.
“Yes, Rodney, tomorrow. It’s the middle of the night on the planet and I think it would be best if we didn’t turn up armed while they’re sleeping.”
“Are you kidding? That’s exactly what we should do!” Rodney’s voice is so shrill, he just knows that he’s woken the boy up, but that doesn’t stop him from continuing. “Why aren’t we storming the castle? Breaking down the hatches, or…whatever the hell we have to do to turn him back to normal?”
Elizabeth’s voice isn’t enough to stop him, but the sniffle right by his ear is. Alarmed, he looks down at the kid, wide-eyed.
“No, no, no, no, no, no, no, don’t cry!” he pleads and tries a smile. He knows he’s failed even before he sees the comically confused look on the boy’s face. At least his reaction seems to have staved off the crying.
“Rodney, my decision is final.” Elizabeth says, taking advantage of his distraction. “Now I expect you to accommodate for the Colonel for the time being. Dismissed.” And she leaves the room before he has so much as a moment to figure out how to stop her.
Brought back to the situation at hand, Rodney glances at the boy, looks around the room just in time to see Ronon’s smirk and Teyla’s smile (he just knows she’s laughing at him on the inside) as they slip out of the room. Leaving him alone with Colonel Shorty, who’s currently blinking up at him with eyes that, damnit, should not be that appealingly innocent. Rodney reminds himself that he hates kids once more, just to make him feel better, before reassuring himself that he’s a genius and he can totally handle this.
“Wodney, we go pay now?”
“Pay?” He frowns, takes a second to try and access some semblance of three-year-old-translator that might be lurking in is mind and comes up with only one possible solution. “Geniuses don’t play.”
John just looks at him in a way that’s painfully familiar and drawls, “Wod-ney.”
“This is just so wrong,” he mumbles and stands up, remembering at the last moment to keep hold of the kid before it tumbles to the ground. His mind is whirling off in a million and one different directions which, to be fair, isn’t really that different to his usual mental state. The difference is that, this time, all those directions have the same focus and how typical, Rodney thinks, that it would be Colonel John Sheppard that finally gets his brain focussed on the one topic, without even the smallest portion of his mind wondering how to improve the output of the power regulators on level thirteen, or the incorrect equations Kavanagh had been scrawling all over the lab’s whiteboards before he’d gone on the mission to Alekesh and had that really only been 21 hours ago?
He swings into the corridor leading to the military personnel quarters without even thinking and it isn’t until he’s already palmed open the door to Sheppard’s empty quarters that he realises what he’s doing. He freezes in the doorway, only peripherally aware that the boy in his arms is craning his neck to see into the room, and Rodney doesn’t know what the hell he’s supposed to do next. That in and of itself is enough to almost send him into a tailspin of panic; he always knows what to do and in those rare moments when he doesn’t, Sheppard takes up the slack.
They’re so doomed.
He takes a deep breath and steps back from the room, letting the door slide shut. The boy seems to realise that staying quiet is the way to go here and Rodney’s internally grateful that that particular trait of Sheppard’s is still there, regardless of age.
“Okay, okay, okay,” he mumbles to himself. This is one of the times that he definitely doesn’t know what to do. It’s not a mechanical, mathematical, physical, or astronomical fault (not until he can get his hands on that machine, or whatever they used, anyway), so this really isn’t his area. Usually, this is where Sheppard swaggers in and suggests something to take the problem out of his hands while he thinks, or else its life threatening and he has no choice but to think. He feels a ball of panic start to roll around in his stomach and tendrils of it snatch up his wind pipe like grabby little fingers. He can’t seem to breathe properly and he seriously does not need to panic right now.
Something in his mind suddenly clicks. He turns and walks a few paces down the corridor, palms open the door and storms into the room. He barely registers that Lorne’s room is a mess, doesn’t stop to process the fact that a few minutes earlier and he could have literally walked in on the Major with his pants down, and holds out the boy by the armpits, all but throwing him at the man.
“Major, meet the new Colonel Sheppard. Bond, or... something. Just keep it occupied and don’t bring it back for at least seven hours!”
He pushes the boy into Lorne’s arms and storms out the door, holding his breath for a moment and trying not to analyse why he lurks in the hallway to make sure he hasn’t just made the situation a whole lot worse.
“Sheppard,” he hears Lorne say in that same even ‘nothing can phase me’ military voice that the Colonel uses all the time.
“John,” the boy responds and suddenly Rodney can breathe again.
He doesn’t wait around any longer. He heads straight for his lab and the look on his face, he hopes, seems violent enough that no one bothers to stop him along the way. In fact two marines physically flatten themselves against the wall to let him pass and that’s when he realises that, yes, he’s pissed off. At Sheppard. Because, damn it, the man seems to draw in trouble like he has some kind of magnetic attraction to it. He might as well hold up a flashing neon sign that says ‘Looking for Trouble’ in a universally spoken language. Maybe mathematics, Rodney thinks, momentarily side tracked, but then the knowledge that Sheppard would have got that makes him ache a little.
He storms into the lab, startling Kusanagi and Walters – who look like they need startling so they can get back to work – and heads straight to his desk. There’s an almost deafening silence in the room, that’s pressing on him more than the roiling ball of panic that’s now moved upwards and is clutched inside his chest. By the time Zelenka actually approaches his desk he’s mentally decapitated half his science team.
“What?” he barks, before the Czech can say a word.
“Is it true?”
“Is what true?” Rodney asks, keeping his voice steady and hoping that will somehow keep him sane.
“You mean that he’s physically reverted to his mental age? Yes, it’s true. Now get back to work.”
He expects increased whispering and stolen speculative glances and is surprised instead to see Zelenka’s hand hover near his shoulder for a moment, before the Czech lets out a breath, nods and returns to his desk. He sees the smirk on Kavanagh’s face, but he really doesn’t expect the sympathy on everyone else’s. Somehow, that makes him feel so much worse.
* * *
Rodney isn’t sure what time it is when he finally notices he’s not alone, but he holds out a hand expectantly for the cup of coffee that Sheppard usually brings with him. When his hand is still empty a moment later, he frowns, but it doesn’t come flooding back until the silence is broken.
He whirls around so fast he almost falls off his chair, but stands quickly and nods before the Major can comment. The man’s standing in the doorway with a sleeping child in his arms and Rodney takes a moment to study the messy tuft of hair sticking up from the man’s shoulder. He wonders what it means that it’s that more than anything, even Carson’s tests, that convinces him that the boy really is Sheppard and that the man isn’t suddenly going to come through the ‘gate demanding to know why the hell they left him behind.
“I didn’t want to disturb you, but I didn’t know what to do with him. We’re moving out in about six hours and-”
“No, no, I…well, yes.”
There’s an awkward moment where they try to work out how to get the boy from Lorne’s arms to Rodney’s – even though Rodney really doesn’t want to take him – and, somehow he gets the odd feeling that the other man doesn’t want to let him go. It takes longer than Rodney thinks it should for an Air Force Major and a genius with two Phd’s to exchange a child.
“I…” Lorne winces and runs a hand through his hair. “This is kinda messed up,” he finishes, looking distinctly uncomfortable and, oh God, Rodney really wants him to stop talking.
“Really, Major, I hadn’t noticed.” The man sighs and Rodney suddenly feels like a total heel.
“Look, I just…we’ll get him back.”
“I’m a genius,” Rodney says and knows that Lorne understands that he’s saying ‘of course we will’ and somehow thinks that maybe the Major even understands something that only Sheppard, Teyla and Ronon would normally hear; the words ‘I really need you to believe that we will, so that I can believe it’.
The man nods and heads to the doorway, calling back over his shoulder. “I’ll fill you in as soon as we get back.”
“Just don’t flirt with anything and stay away from their stupid temple.”
Lorne chuckles and nods. “Will do, Doc. Will do.”
And suddenly Rodney’s once again left alone with a three-year-old and no idea what he’s meant to do next.
* * *
The next morning, Rodney figures out he got off lightly the night before. Getting the kid into an oversized t-shirt and jury-rigging a tiny bed out of a drawer, two pillows and a couple of clean sheets was as easy as reconfiguring a DHD compared with being jumped on at six am by a hyped up little boy who looks rather demented and unable to contain far more excitement than is acceptable at this time of the morning.
“Wodney! Wodney! Wodney! Wake up!”
“Like you’re giving me any choice!” he growls, lifting the kid off his ribcage in the hopes that the bruises won’t actually end up covering his entire torso.
“Look!” John cries and then scrunches up his face.
Suddenly the entire room lights up in neon bright colours, like lights at an eighties disco, all the windows roll up into the ceiling letting in the freezing cold morning air and light, airy elevator music blasts out around them, making him drop the boy. Unfortunately, the boy lands on him.
“Turn it off!” he cries and as suddenly as it all started it stops. Well, the windows remain open, but the wobbling lower lip and the wet, blinking eyes in front of him are suddenly causing more distress than the thought of pneumonia. “Don’t cry,” he orders, going for a different tact, and, after a moment, the child sniffs and nods.
“Bweakfast,” he says decidedly and elbows Rodney’s already-bruised ribs in an attempt to get off the bed.
“Coffee,” Rodney says wistfully and the thought is enough to get him up, too. The mess in his room, however, stops him short. “What did you do? Was there a tornado in here this morning?”
The kid grins unrepentantly and nods. “Yup! Huwicane John!”
Rodney actually whimpers and considers falling back into bed in the hopes that, the next time he wakes up, it’ll all be a dream. The shout of, “Wodney! Bweakfast!” is enough to remind him that fate doesn’t really like him that much.
* * *
“Will you take it today?”
Teyla raises her eyebrows and glares at him simultaneously and he’s never really worked out (a) how she does it – it has to be a physical anomaly – or (b) how she always manages to make him feel worse than his grandmother ever had.
“I do not believe that would be in John’s best interests.”
She sighs and, again, it’s like the ghost of Nana McKay is at the table with him. “Because I believe it would be best for you both to spend some time together. He is still John Sheppard.”
At his name, the little head next to him looks up. Rodney’s as appalled by the oatmeal mess on his face as Ronon is impressed. Without thinking, he picks up one of the napkins, cups the back of the kid’s head with one hand and scrubs the boy’s face with the other. He figures maybe he should have brought a towel and wonders how the boy managed to get more food on his face than he got in his mouth.
When he puts the napkin down, John’s glaring at him and the entire mess hall is silent. Rodney had thought it bad enough when he’d walked in the door with the overexcited toddler; John had bounced in and run around all the tables as if he was in some kind of garden maze until Rodney had yelled at him to ‘get back here’ before he killed himself. It had been like living behind the wrong side of the glass in a zoo and it wasn’t until he’d sat down at the usual team table with Teyla and Ronon that noise levels had started up again.
Rodney looks around the room and glares until everyone looks away and starts talking. The voices are hushed and he has no doubt as to what the topic is, but then he also knows that it’s unlikely they weren’t already talking about it anyway.
“I don’t see what the big deal is,” Ronon says suddenly. “Lorne’s team will be back in a few hours. Besides, Sheppard’s been hit worse than this before.”
“John,” the boy suddenly says, irritated.
“Sorry, kid,” Ronon says and he seems appeased.
But Rodney isn’t. The boy isn’t Sheppard and he really doesn’t know what to do about it.
* * *
“Have we heard anything yet?” Rodney asks, once again ignoring the wide-eyed stares of everyone around him. The boy is clutching Rodney’s right ear with one hand and the top of his t-shirt with the other and, after one poked eye and a few fingers up his nose, Rodney had figured it was less hassle just to leave the boy’s hands where they were.
Elizabeth just looks at him for a moment, then smiles and shakes her head. “Major Lorne and his team aren’t due back for another three hours, Rodney. The walk to the gate is at least four.”
“They didn’t take a jumper?” he asks incredulously.
“I felt that appearing in a spaceship would further damage relations with the Alekesh.”
“Further damage…” Rodney trails off hoping that his face finishes his sentence for him. He can’t believe that Elizabeth is actually being so cavalier about what’s happened to Sheppard and placing so much importance on a relationship with the people who did this to him. “What aren’t you telling me?” he asks suddenly.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Elizabeth might have the best poker face in Pegasus, but Rodney figured out her tell a long time ago. Well, okay, Sheppard had figured it out and told him, but the fact remains that he could see through the lie. There was something she wasn’t telling him.
“Elizabeth,” he pushes and she glances at the boy in his arms before looking at Rodney. She almost looks like she might be about to answer him when he hears the telltale noise of the Stargate coming to life.
“Incoming wormhole,” Chuck calls and Rodney has to bite his tongue to stop some sarcastic comment about stating the obvious. His attention wavers from the ‘gate room when he hears a noise coming from the child in his arms.
He looks down to see a gleeful little boy, with bright eyes, staring at the Stargate as if it were a Christmas tree. The boy’s grip on his t-shirt has it cutting into the back of Rodney’s neck as he leans forward, reaching out to touch the ‘gate even thought it’s far out of reach.
It’s been a long time since Rodney has seen someone looking at anything with that much wonder, let alone felt it himself, and he takes a moment to think about the first time he heard his grandmother fingers dancing Liszt’s Rhapsodies, the way each key had struck something that reverberated inside his chest, he thinks about the first time he realised that numbers sang to him and the world became a playground of primes, variables and universal constants. He suddenly realises that he’s jealous of Sheppard, jealous because Rodney doesn’t think he’ll ever see the world like that ever again.
He turns to Elizabeth and is completely caught off guard by the look on her face. She’s gazing at the boy with an expression that he doesn’t think he could quantify or understand no matter how long he tried. It’s true that he finds it hard to read people, finds it hard to relate and to make friends, but it’s rare that he’s ever wanted so much to read between the lines like he does right now.
He jerks out of his thoughts when the Major’s voice echoes through the ‘Gate room.
“Atlantis, we’re comin’ in hot!”
* * *
Rodney frowns again at the strange machine in the centre of the room. It’s completely inert now, although it had sputtered slightly to life when mini Sheppard had reached for it and only Ronon’s quick hands had got the boy out of the way in time. To keep him away, Elizabeth left the boy’s in Zelenka’s care (which Rodney secretly finds hilarious, because the Czech likes kids less than he does) having what’s likely to be a Grade-A tantrum.
“It doesn’t seem to be working at all, Doc,” Lorne says with a shrug. “I’ll be honest and say that Asher may have damaged it when I told him to yank it off the wall and what with the alarms and all it didn’t seem like a good time to stop and figure out if we’d broken it.”
Rodney would normally shout at him, threaten him with the million and one ways he could make the Major’s life a living hell for messing this up, but he’s already put together a picture of what happened (and at least Lorne – also Sheppard’s second in command as far as the gene goes – had had the sense not to touch the thing himself). He tries to hide the small smile, but thinks the answering twitch of Lorne’s mouth has given him away. Unfortunately, Elizabeth isn’t so amused.
“What do you mean ‘when you told him to yank it off the wall’?” she demands and Lorne fidgets a little at her tone.
“They were rather…reluctant to adhere to our request. The opportunity merely presented itself when they were called to attend their daily worship.”
“You stole it?” Elizabeth asks incredulously.
Lorne cocks his head slightly to one side and frowns. “I prefer to think of it as borrowing.”
Ronon’s eyebrows shoot up, as he gives Lorne a wide grin; Teyla frowns slightly, but Rodney can tell she’s finding it hard to find fault with the Major’s decision; and Rodney… well, he finds himself reassessing his opinion of Sheppard’s 2IC. Rodney wonders if the Air Force will give the man a medal on his recommendation.
“Your orders, Major, were to try to negotiate for the machine, not to steal it.”
“Well, it’s done now,” Rodney says, waving his hand as if it’s unimportant and, as he’d hoped, Elizabeth’s focus is back on him.
“Can you figure this out?” she asks, tightly.
“I’ll need time to study it.”
“Right, so in the meantime we need to figure out what to do about the Colonel.”
Ronon shrugs. “He seems happy enough to me.”
“Indeed, he does seem to be adjusting quite well,” Teyla says with a nod. “He has no memory of us, but he trusts who we are to him, Rodney in particular. I believe it would be best for us to accommodate for him much as we have been.”
Elizabeth frowns, but nods. “Okay, for now we’ll leave things as they are. We can meet in the morning and see if we have any idea as to how this will proceed.”
* * *
“Hey Doc, wait up.”
Rodney blinks, coming out of his thought process and lifting his gaze from the machine in his hands, as Lorne joins him and they continue walking.
“I’ve never figured out how you do that,” the man says and Rodney frowns. “You’ve been walking towards the lab, not walking into anything or anyone and you haven’t taken your eyes off that thing since you left the meeting. I’ve been trying to catch your attention since we left and you didn’t even see the transporter doors almost chop my damn hand off.”
“It’s a talent that requires more brain cells than the average military grunt possesses.” Lorne seems amused, so Rodney doesn’t think the man’s offended. “What can I do for you, Major, I’m a busy man.”
“That I know. Just thought I’d offer my services again. Babysitting,” he clarifies a moment later. “I figure half the city’s gonna offer, but I’m a bit worried that with the way the civilians are acting with John that they’ll let him get away with anything and most of the military contingent won’t be able to forget that he’s their CO.”
“And you won’t?” Rodney shakes his head and continues before the man can answer. “I hadn’t really thought about it. But, yes, that’s … yes.”
Lorne frowns at him and Rodney knows that the man can tell he’s working around to asking something. They walk in silence for a moment before Rodney stops and turns to face him, startling him slightly.
“How do you do it?” Rodney demands. “How do you…?”
Lorne winces a little. “Honestly? I’m pretending he’s the Colonel’s kid. It’s easier and I try not to think about the fact that he’s likely to remember I played cops and robbers with him for about four hours yesterday. And, hey, you’ll fix this in no time.”
“Yeah, Doc.” Lorne slaps a hand on Rodney’s shoulder. “Man with a brain your size, shouldn’t be too hard to figure that one out.” He winks and indicates the lab down the corridor with a jerk of his head. “Figure we should relieve Zalenka of the screaming.”
Rodney nods and finally lets the shrieking noise he’s been ignoring since he got off the transporter penetrate his thought process. They both wince on a particularly loud scream.
“What the…is he torturing the kid?”
* * *
When Lorne returns the boy that evening, Rodney doesn’t know what they spent the day doing, but he’s eternally grateful that the kid isn’t bouncing off the walls. It’s too early to put him to bed, but he has no idea what to do with him in the meantime.
When the boy changes into his Athosian style pyjamas and hold his hands up to be picked up, Rodney really looks at him for a moment. He has Sheppard’s eyes; they’re still bright and full of mischief, but the newly-acquired innocence he can now see no longer masks the intelligence behind them. There’s something hidden back there, though, something that Rodney’s secretly hoping is the key to turning him back into a man; memories. He’ll figure it out somehow, knows he has to, but in the meantime…
Rodney picks the boy up holding him by the arm pits and out at arms length, keeping him at eye level. He narrows his eyes, waiting a moment until the kid finally gives him a look that says, ‘What, Rodney?’ in that calm drawl he can almost hear in his head.
“Okay, so…right.” He clears his throat and the boy frowns comically. “Lorne says I should just think of you as the Colonel’s son, or relative or whatever. Somehow, I don’t think Sheppard would be stupid enough to leave me with a kid, let alone one he actually wanted to survive the encounter, but that’s beside the point. You’re not Sheppard, okay, you’re…you’re…”
“John,” the boy says, eyes wide and voice vaguely patronising, but Rodney just nods.
“Yes, yes. You’re…you’re John.”
“Okay. We go pay now?”
“I told you, geniuses-”
“Don’t pay,” John finishes, rolling his eyes. “I know, Wodney.”
“Well then.” Rodney frowns and then takes a moment to think what the hell he is going to do with the kid before his own brainwave comes back to him. He smiles.
“I think it’s time I taught you how to count.”
* * *
On the third day of what Rodney now thinks of as his own personal hell, he wakes up to find he can't breathe properly due to a heavy object on his chest. He's half choking on tufts of fluffy hair and the wet patch on his left shoulder is, in fact, John-drool. Grossed out far less than he feels he should be, he simply lies still and tries to think of a point in his life when he'd ever felt more out of his depth. Apologising after blowing up the better part of a solar system, that had been hard and painful and, oh God, the look in Sheppard's eyes had damn near killed him, but this? He thinks it would be easier to define pi as a fraction than make it through this in one piece.
Dr. Meredith Rodney McKay has never been accused of being anything other than selfish and he’s never really denied that that’s exactly the way he likes things. He remembers, with a startling clarity, the look of embarrassed horror on his mother’s face the day she and his father had dragged a wide-eyed Jeannie into a room full of government officials because their son had build a (non-working!) weapon as his school science project. Until that moment, his genius had always been something to celebrate, to be proud of and revelled in – even if, in hindsight, Rodney can easily see that it was all in the name of making his parents look better in the eyes of others; their son, the genius.
From that moment on, however, it had been every McKay for him or herself. Or, perhaps, it had been him and Jeannie against their parents until that fateful moment when he’d opened his damn mouth and spouted out a whole lot of things he hasn’t been able to remember in full detail to this day. But Jeannie had been his. Had been his to cling to and to support in equal measures. And then she’d belonged to someone else, to two someone elses and Rodney had been on the outside again, because how could he compare to a vegetarian English major and a baby girl when he’d seen that look of love in Jeannie’s eyes. So he’d told her she was turning her back on her science and her potential when he was secretly screaming that she was turning her back on him and begging her not to leave him behind. It was the first time that she hadn’t understood Rodney since the day she’d been born.
He glances at the boy on his chest, trying to dislodge the lump of something caught in his throat and tells himself that the ache in his chest is the kid’s elbow. It’s easier, he figures, to pretend that it’s not Sheppard; that way he can think of it as ‘the boy’ or ‘the child’ or ‘the kid’ or just simply ‘it’, because if it’s really John Sheppard, Rodney has to care. Has to care because it’s Sheppard and because, no matter how many times he’s tried to stop himself, he cares about his team and Carson and Elizabeth in a way that he’s not cared since Jeannie had been his entire world.
He thinks back to what Lorne said to him yesterday and he knows deep down that that might be his only option, because, no matter what he’s been spouting off, he knows that the machine isn’t going to be doing a damn thing anytime soon and this child – John – is right in front of him and he has to deal with it. He tried the whole ‘ignore it and it’ll go away’ thing with Jeannie whenever she’d got particularly annoying when they were children, but that doesn’t work anymore with kids than it does with Kavanagh.
The sleepy murmur startles him slightly and, for a moment, he doesn’t know what to do with his hands when the child snuggles into his chest, as if he’s burrowing for warmth. He pulls up the sheet and, after a moment of random flailing, settles his arms around the boy’s shoulders.
“It’s okay, John, go back to sleep,” he says softly.
It feels strange, but having actually said it again, having actually acknowledged that the boy on his chest is John Sheppard, things instantly get better and worse simultaneously. Rodney’s never been one to give himself to something half heartedly, not with his work and not with his affection. It’s the main reason he gives the latter so scarcely, because with his work, he knows that 99.99% of the time he’s doing everything right and the margin for error is small enough to be negligible. With the other…well, it’s more of the reverse and Rodney’s not sure he’s built for that kind of loss.
* * *
In the first two weeks following the initial incident, Rodney approaches his 'parenting' a lot like he'd approached his lab work for his first doctorate. He spends his time recording data like how long it takes John to calm down at night, what foods send him into a hyperactive tizzy that end up with half the contingent of Atlantis watching gleefully whilst he grinds his teeth, what areas of the city are most responsive and at the same time least child proof, and so on until he has a working model of what John can and can’t do and a comparative working model of John doing whatever the hell he wants. The crossover is unsurprisingly alarming and he’s had science teams out on child-proofing missions since the day the Major walked into his lab and told him John had his own personal Scotty in Atlantis’ systems to ‘beam him up’. Even if he doesn’t actually believe Lorne’s wild story about a transporter beam, it’s still a wise plan.
He studies input and output a lot like John’s a computer system, a series of tests, a string of codes that he can crack and analyse so that he has a set pattern and a governing set of rules to explain the universe of a miniature John Sheppard. What he finds, however, at the end of all the observation and time spent turning the information into graphs and trends is that John simply will not be defined by any set parameters.
It’s unsettling to say the least, Rodney’s used to discovery and finding new ways of working, he’s used to adapting to new rules and limitations, but ‘just winging it’ was always more Sheppard’s thing and he’s having trouble adapting to that.
“I said,” Rodney snatches the pda out of the boy’s hands. “Stop that right now!”
“No! You didn’t! You said ‘top that, you neve’ said wight now!”
“I swear to God,” Rodney throws the pda on the bed, picks up the screaming, wriggling child by the arm pits and deposits him in the corner by placing him in the metal tub he got from the Athosians for John to bathe in, knowing that the boy can’t get out on his own. “Stop that noise and…be good and I’ll let you out!”
“You can’t do dat!” John cries and Rodney blinks. That almost sounded like Sheppard, all indignation and righteousness. “Wet me out!”
John sniffs and Rodney’s eyes widen in alarm. “Please…Wodney…” he hiccoughs and Rodney sighs, preparing to relent, before he notices the gleam in the boy’s eyes.
“No, I certainly will not!”
“Fine!” John cries and disappears in a flash of blue light.
Rodney gapes at the empty tub for a few seconds. “Why you little brat!” He storms out of his room, tapping his earpiece on the way. “Major Lorne!”
“Woah, what, McKay?”
“Remember when I called you delusional?”
“The little brat disappeared on me.”
He growls when Lorne chuckles. “I told ya, McKay, Altantis has a transporter beam.”
“Yes, yes, whatever. I need you to start a search, while I try to track him on the computers.”
“Already on it, McKay.”
There’s a beep to signal that Lorne’s done talking to him and Rodney nods to himself, making his way quickly to the ‘gate room. He’s used to Sheppard cajoling and demanding more information, used to debating and verbal sparring, and he misses it, but he does appreciate that Major Lorne is efficient.
“Elizabeth,” he greets, stepping up to the nearest computer. He pushes Emily/Amy/Amelie/whatever-her-name-is out of the way and starts tapping away at the controls.
“Rodney,” Elizabeth greets conversationally, her tone curious and demanding at the same time.
“The little brat beamed out of our quarters.”
“Beamed?” she queries. “Like in Star Trek?”
“I knew it, you’re all secretly Trekkies,” Rodney says, blinking up at her for a moment, before getting back to the computer. “Yes, like Star Trek.”
“Wait a minute. Rodney, if he can do that, he could-”
“End up anywhere, yes, I know. Why do you think I‘ve had the science team trying to child-proof the- aha! Gotcha.” Rodney taps his earpiece, ignoring Elizabeth (he’s not stupid, he knows she’s trying to get him to talk seriously about this, but it’s one of the times he prefers to feign ignorance). “Major Lorne.”
“Go ahead, Doc. You got him?”
“Yes. Outskirts of the cleared sections of the city; he’s in what we think was one of the old civilian quarters. Section 16, level three. You should pick him up with your life sensors when you get off the transporter.”
“We’re on it.”
Nodding, Rodney turns to leave, but Elizabeth has blocked his path. “We need to talk about this, Rodney. You keep manoeuvring out of these conversations, but we need to talk.”
“I hardly think this is the time to-”
“Major Lorne will get him and if there are any problems I’m sure you’ll be the first to know. Now step into my office.”
His feeling of dread intensifies as he follows Elizabeth. He’s not the most sensitive of guys, but he’s far from oblivious and he knows that something has been off with her since they stepped back through the ‘gate with John Sheppard the Junior Version screaming his little head off, as Ronon held him under one arm and aimed his gun at the bad guys with the other.
“Rodney,” she begins.
“No. Just no.” He shakes his head and she frowns at him, looking stunned that he’s interrupted her already. “Look, I know what you’re going to say. Or, well, I don’t, but I’m working on this and I need time. He’s got about two hundred babysitters, he’s happy and… I can fix this.” He tries to ignore that he’s totally pleading with her, but he also doesn’t really care.
“Rodney, I can’t…” Elizabeth sighs. “Okay,” she says with a nod. “Okay, I’ll give you some time, but I need to make a report to the SGC. I can say we’re working on it in next data burst, but the Deadalus is due back in about two and a half weeks and we’ll need some answers by then, Rodney. The SGC won’t allow a toddler with all of John’s skills and experience to run around in a city he can control with his mind.”
“I understand. Three weeks. That’s plenty of time.” He forces a smile and leaves before Elizabeth can see that he’s not entirely convinced he’s telling the truth.
* * *
On to Part Two
* * *