Title: I Have Not Forsaken You
Relationship(s): Rodney McKay/John Sheppard, Rodney McKay & Madison Miller (parental)
Content Rating: Mature
Warnings: Family Bashing, Dark Themes, Domestic Abuse, Sexism, Discussion: Domestic Abuse, Explicit Sex
Summary: Dr. M. Rodney McKay is a brilliant Physicist and Mathematician, and is recruited to work for the newly declassified Stargate Command in the hopes that he can solve their power issues. He is assigned to work with Major John Sheppard, who is determined to learn about the man with the brusque facade. But Rodney McKay has many secrets, and one is about to come back from his past to confront him.
Word Count: 61290
A/N–This is my November 2018 Rough Trade project for NaNoWriMo. I hope you enjoy it.
Chapter One: Then and Now
Twenty-year-old Meredith Rodney McKay wept as he looked at the tiny human in his arms. He was three days from defending his first dissertation, and instead of reviewing his thesis, he was recovering in the emergency maternity ward of Chicago’s University of Illinois Hospital, which was nowhere near the Northwestern Mathematics Department.
Ironically, it was the stress of the dissertation that put Rodney there in the first place, as being the youngest PhD candidate at that prestigious school put a lot of pressure on the young man. And his condition….
“It’s just as well that you and Caleb can take the child, Jeannie,” said Scott McKay with overt disdain in his voice. “Meredith doesn’t need further distractions right now.”
Jeannie McKay Miller wisely did not respond. Instead, she kept her eyes, filled with joy and jealousy, on her brother—and on the baby that would become hers. Her father left the recovery room to speak with the doctor, probably to see when Rodney could leave and prepare for his defense, so Jeannie moved closer to the bed.
Rodney looked up at her, completely missing the naked jealousy in her gaze as she looked at the baby, and he said, “I never thought I’d love her, Jeannie. After everything, I just….”
“You can’t keep her, Mer,” said Jeannie tightly. “You know you can’t. There’s too much riding on your education, and Father would never….”
“…Never allow me to have any kind of life with a baby,” Rodney sighed. “I never should have said anything, not when the…incident…happened, and not when I found out about the consequences. I could take care of her, I know I could. I’d have to work a little harder, is all.”
“Mer,” said Jeannie with steel in her voice. “You can’t keep her. You’ve already signed the papers, and Caleb is waiting to take us home. She’ll only hold you back; you know that.”
Rodney’s eyes filled with tired tears. “She wouldn’t. I wouldn’t let her.” He wiped his eyes with his free hand and the baby in his arms whimpered softly. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this, Jeannie.”
Jeannie’s eyes finally left the baby and sought her brother’s. “No, I don’t suppose it was. In fact, you were supposed to lead the world in Physics and Maths, and I was supposed to have the babies. It’s all Father said I was good for after I failed to pass the damned tests, and I even failed at that!”
The baby shifted and whimpered again, and Rodney shushed and cuddled her, shooting his sister a mild glare. “I never should have agreed to this,” he hissed.
Jeannie returned the glare. “You didn’t have a choice. You have no home, Meredith. You’re an academic with no real support system, whereas I have a lovely home, and a husband with a good job, and the ability to stay home and care for a child. I can give her everything that you can’t.”
“Can you love her, Jeannie?” Rodney asked softly as he stroked a shaking finger gently over the baby’s cheek. “She wasn’t supposed to be, but I already love her; can you say the same?”
“I’ll do what I have to,” she replied coolly.
“Are we certain that this is the person we need for this project?” Brigadier General Jonathon ‘Jack’ O’Neill was rather protective of the newly-public Stargate program, and he had come to depend on the scientists that had been in the program since its inception, so he was reluctant to bring new people in, especially in regards to newly discovered technology.
Colonel Samantha Carter merely shrugged and tipped her head slightly to the side. “He’s basically a rock star when it comes to physics and engineering, and he’s spent the past three years studying the Ancient tech that we’ve made available to carefully selected institutions. He doesn’t have the ATA gene, but he’s got an uncanny ability to understand and reverse-engineer a lot of the systems we’ve found.”
O’Neill scowled. “And he’s never worked for a government agency before?”
Carter blushed and bit her bottom lip. “Carter?”
“Sir,” she stammered, “he’s very much sought-after for a variety of reasons. And while he’s never been on a government payroll full time, he has done contract work for several agencies in several countries. But,” she said quickly before he could interrupt, “he’s never built weapons, he’s never been on any watch list, and the one time a program he invented was used to kill, he reported the incident to the CIA watchdog that was over that particular project.
“He’s abrasive, bordering on rude, but he’s a genius, and if anyone can figure this one out, it’s McKay.”
“Abrasive and rude, Carter? We have a lot of oddballs around here; will he be able to work with them?”
Carter took a deep breath, releasing it slowly. “I sincerely hope so, because the ‘Gate has been malfunctioning for weeks now, and I’m no closer to figuring out why. I don’t want to strand anyone off-world, or worse—kill someone with a spontaneous wormhole collapse. McKay seems to have a preternatural understanding of Ancient tech, and the ‘Gate is completely Ancient. We don’t have to keep him around forever, but we need him right now.”
O’Neill tossed his pen onto the table and slumped back in his chair. “Fine. Call him in for a consult, but don’t let him get any high expectations about becoming a permanent member of the staff. I don’t want to rock any boats unnecessarily.”
Carter grimaced. “We’re going to rock boats regardless, Sir. When I said McKay was a rock star, I meant it. A lot of the hard-science staff have heard of him, or worked with or under him, over the last fifteen years. He’s been on the short list for the Nobel Prize for Physics three times in the last ten years, and he only took himself out of the running twice because he felt he was physically too young for the honor and needed more life experience.”
“Uh-huh. And the third time?”
Carter shrugged. “Well, that’s this coming year, Sir, and his work on vacuum energy is solid—and only partially based on the ZPM. I think he might win, to be honest, and that’s another thing that will set him apart from everyone else here.”
“Why?” asked O’Neill dryly. “Will our geeks get mad if he plays with their toys?”
“Not exactly,” said Carter seriously. “It’s more because he came up with his theories before he had access to those particular…toys. It’ll basically seem like he’s a pilot that came out of the womb able to fly any machine that flies without needing a single lesson. He’d be resented just because he has a brilliant mind, but if you add his social awkwardness, well. He’ll ruffle a lot of feathers before he’s done here.”
O’Neill leaned forward in his chair and stared at Carter pointedly. “Carter, are you trying to convince me to bring him in to deal with our problem, or trying to convince me that it’s a bad idea so that I’ll leave him alone?”
Again, Carter shrugged. “Whether or not it’s a bad idea to bring McKay in, we will need him to fix the problem. And, um, I should be the one to invite him, Sir.”
O’Neill raised one eyebrow. “Oh? And why is that, when it’s always been Daniel’s job to entice the civilians around here?”
Carter grimaced. “I don’t know why, but for some reason McKay doesn’t really respond well to offers from men. He turned down his current position three times before someone sent a woman in to ask for his attention.”
O’Neill sighed. “Great, you want to bring in an abusive skirt-chaser. I’ll have to assign a person security guard for him, just to make sure he doesn’t try to stick his brilliant mind where it’s not wanted. I don’t need anyone to completely offend the women in the mountain.”
Carter grinned. “I have just the man in mind: Major Sheppard is fairly easy-going and he has the ATA gene in spades, and McKay is going to need a ‘light switch’ for his work here.”
O’Neill nodded and gathered his files together. “Sounds good, Carter. Let Sheppard know he’s to make sure McKay doesn’t disrupt too much around here so that our delicate balance is maintained.”
“Will do, Sir. I’ll head out tomorrow to speak with McKay. If we’re very lucky, he’ll jump at the chance to work with the Stargate directly and I won’t actually have to offer anything unsavory to get him here.”
Six-year-old Meredith Rodney McKay just couldn’t understand why his father was having so much trouble with his homework, because it seemed so easy to him.
Scott McKay, chief engineer at Holodyne Aerodynamics, had been grumbling for hours as he stared at the blueprint on his drafting table. The pile of papers on the edge of the table was littered with scribbles in different colors of ink, and they looked rather pretty to the boy, but the blue paper with the pretty white picture was what drew his attention: the rough schematics for a new aircraft that Scott McKay had been tasked with designing, but was having trouble with.
The elder McKay had been working late at his office for so long that his wife had begged him to come home so that his children didn’t forget what he looked like. It was pure hyperbole of course, but McKay really hadn’t been home before 3am in weeks, and he wasn’t any closer to fixing the problem with engine thrust, so he had given in, eventually if not gracefully, and had dinner with his family before secluding himself in his home office.
His son had come in to kiss him good-night, just like his ten-year-old daughter had five minutes before, but the boy had lingered far longer, staring at the blueprints and equations that littered the desk.
“Meredith,” McKay finally said, exasperated, “it’s time for bed. Run along now, and let Daddy get back to work.”
The small boy looked earnestly at his father and said, “But Daddy, that sentence is all wrong.” The boy was pointing confidently at the ‘sentence’, a piece of the main proof that McKay had adjusted three times already and was convinced was finally correct. It was the proof equation that defined how the aircraft would ‘launch’ into the air without a long take-off.
McKay stared at his son, incredulous. “What do you mean ‘it’s wrong’?”
Meredith sidled closer to the table and reached for one of the drafting pencils and began making halting strokes, his small hand barely hesitant. “This part here, it’s not going to add up right.”
Scott McKay pushed his stool back far enough so that he could lift his son into his lap, allowing the boy better access to the drafting table. Meredith took the opportunity to reach for a blank notepad and began reworking the equation, pausing periodically to ask his father questions about some of it that he didn’t quite understand, and McKay patiently explained the purpose of the math. They worked together for almost an hour before Elaine McKay came to retrieve the boy for bed, gently chiding her husband for keeping him up too long.
After his wife and son departed from the office, Scott McKay sat and stared at the notepad and compared it to his own solo work. It was, for lack of a better word, impeccable. It would have to be redrawn, of course, because young Meredith certainly had not mastered penmanship, but the boy clearly had an innate understanding of advanced mathematics. That was something that needed to be explored as quickly as possible. McKay could, of course, claim the work as his own, and nobody would be the wiser. He’d been working on the project for almost a year, and his superiors knew he worked at home without supervision, so it wouldn’t have been a stretch to say that he had had an epiphany while away from the office, but if he could nurture Meredith’s mind while he was young….
Scott McKay had not wanted to be a husband and father, not really. He wanted a good career and a big bank account, but he didn’t really have any interest in females or in dating, and his social awkwardness didn’t lend to it anyway. Meeting Elaine Jessup while at university was a pleasant surprise, as she was intelligent and well-spoken, and she also had a life goal of a career that precluded a family She was a brilliant musician and had a very analytical mind, and was also just a bit socially awkward. McKay sat next to her in a calculus class, and they did homework together over coffee and light conversation.
When the Sigma Phi Delta social came around that fall, McKay didn’t hesitate to ask Elaine to accompany him as there was no romantic entanglement involved. They mingled and danced, and parted ways at the end of the evening with no regrets. Elaine had no shortage of dates during college, but she was more concerned with perfecting her performance, and Scott McKay was completely involved with making a name for himself in the Engineering Program at the University of British Columbia. After the basic four years, Elaine went on to a prestigious music conservatory and McKay entered grad school at McMaster University in Toronto.
He never figured to see Elaine again, truth be told, and so was surprised to be contacted by his old study-buddy two years into his program. She was performing with the Toronto Symphony as the featured pianist, she’d said, and would he like to get a coffee and catch up? That coffee led to an invitation to watch her performance one evening, which led to dinner. And wine. And ill-advised sex.
When Elaine contacted him a month later to inform him of her pregnancy—but assuring him that he had no obligations to her specifically—Scott McKay decided that he would do the ‘honorable’ thing and offer marriage. He was working through his graduate program, and Elaine was gainfully employed with the Symphony, so they could manage to afford a home and a child. Elaine agreed, probably out of sympathy for a man trying to do the right thing, and they married without fanfare in a courthouse with only their parents as witnesses. Jeannie Marie was born eight months later, named after Scott McKay’s mother and grandmother, and life went on.
After obtaining his Masters, McKay got a job with Holodyne Aerodynamics as a junior engineer, and Elaine maintained her position as premier pianist with the Symphony, travelling periodically with daughter in tow. Elaine’s mother helped provide childcare when Scott had a huge project, and the family was small but happy. Generally. Elaine’s second pregnancy was also unplanned and unexpected, coming when Jeannie was three years old.
Elaine hoped for a boy. Scott hoped for a raise to support his growing family. Jeannie hoped that the interloper would not stay.
Only Jeannie was disappointed, and healthy little Meredith Rodney McKay, named after Elaine’s grandfather and great-grandfather respectively, came home to live.
By all rights a beautiful and generous child, Jeannie was not thrilled to have a baby brother when she was four-years-old. She was not happy at age six, when the baby began to walk and talk, much earlier than childhood development books anticipated. She was not happy at age eight, when the baby was four and was constantly following her around, hoping for a playmate. She was certainly not happy at age seven, when the ‘baby’ began to write complete sentences—and to attempt Jeannie’s homework on his own before Jeannie could get to it.
Scott McKay stared at the proof that his six-year-old son had figured on his own and thought, briefly, that Jeannie would not be happy that her baby brother could also do this, but he really couldn’t be bothered to care. He had a tiny mind to nurture.
Dr. Rodney McKay sat, stunned, as the beautiful blonde in front of him made her offer. It was a dream come true for the man, but he was sure there was a catch of some sort.
“I’m sorry, Dr. Carter,” he said after a moment, “but did you just invite me to actually work on-site with Ancient technology?”
“It’s ‘Major’, Dr. McKay,” she said tightly, “and yes, I did. We have a…situation…that we could use your help with. If everything works out, we might be able to offer you more opportunities like this.”
Rodney looked helplessly around his cluttered office. “But I’m in the middle of the semester,” he said softly. “I mean, I know my students would probably celebrate my leaving, but I do have a commitment here.”
‘Here’ was the Mathematics Department at CalSci University, where Rodney admittedly had few friends outside of the faculty. He wasn’t even in close proximity to his family, who all resided in Canada. However, Rodney had always maintained that his word was his honor, and he had committed to teaching that semester.
“I’m sure we can help renegotiate your contract for another term, Dr. McKay,” said Carter patiently. “We really could use your mind on this project, and time is of the essence.”
There was a slight urgency in her voice that gave him pause. “It’s a military base, right?” he asked. “With soldiers and stuff?”
“We also have civilian staff, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“No,” he said, shaking his head, “I’m not worried, exactly. I just…don’t do well around certain…personalities.” McKay sighed and reached for his phone, sending out a quick text before Carter could say anything. Seconds later, a chime sounded and McKay read the response before sighing again. “Well, my friend, Dr. Epps, says I should go for it because this really is the chance of a lifetime, so I really only have one other concern.”
“And what is that?” Carter asked, relaxing minutely.
McKay looked her in the eye. “I don’t have the actual ability to activate the Ancient tech. I’ve been able to work out how a lot of it is supposed to work, and I have learned the actual language, but none of the gadgets seem to work for me. That may impact my ability to work for your project.”
Carter smirked at him. “That hasn’t been a detriment to other scientists working in the mountain,” she said. “There is a genetic component to it, which we don’t exactly advertise, so I’d appreciate if you didn’t spread that around, but we have hand-picked an assistant for you. Someone who can actually activate the equipment, even if he doesn’t understand it quite the way you do.”
“Oh,” said Rodney absently, “that’s good, I suppose. I’ll, uh, have to pack….”
“We can get someone to do that for you, unless you have rather a lot to pack up.”
Rodney shook his head. “I’m in a furnished apartment. I have a cat that I’m rather attached to; will that be a problem? I don’t want to give him up.”
Carter’s brow furrowed. “No, that’s not a problem. You can’t bring the cat to work with you, but we’ll find you a place that allows pets.”
“Okay,” said Rodney, relieved, “yes, that’s good, then. I have to leave notes here, for whoever takes over my lecture series, but I can be ready to go in a day or two. Will that work?”
Carter nodded abruptly. “That will be fine, Dr. McKay.”
* * * *
“Dr. Meredith Rodney McKay, PhD in Physics, PhD in Theoretical Mathematics, PhD in Engineering, Masters Degrees in Applied Physics, Theoretical Physics, Electronic Engineering, Computer Programming, and Mechanical Engineering, Bachelor’s Degrees in Mathematics Education and Communications.” Major John Sheppard looked up, wide-eyed, and huffed at his commanding officer. “Did he just sprout into being in an institute of higher learning?”
General O’Neill snorted and relaxed in his comfortable leather chair. “He’s a bit of a prodigy, from what Carter has told me. Went into college before age twelve, and just started collecting degrees until someone could hire him without parental permission—or something like that. Carter said he got his first PhD at age twenty, which is unheard of for anyone.”
Sheppard slouched in an undignified manner and narrowed his eyes fractionally. “So you want me to, what, geek wrangle while he’s here working on the ‘Gate system?”
O’Neill sighed. “Carter said he’s a bit socially abrasive and that he might rub some people the wrong way, so we need you to run interference if that happens. Also, you have the second strongest expression of the ATA gene, and he’ll need someone to activate doo-hickies when he’s working.”
Sheppard nodded absently as he re-read the file in his hand. “He’s wicked smart, Sir. Why can’t Carter wrangle him while he’s here? Surely she could keep up with him.”
O’Neill sighed again, wiping his hands over his face, scrubbing his eyes with his fingertips. “Carter indicated that McKay is more…abrasive…with men, and that he almost exclusively seeks out women to become ‘friendly’ with.” Sheppard snorted at the air quotes, but sobered when O’Neill continued. “I don’t know what kind of man he really is, Sheppard. I don’t think Carter would recommend any kind of sexual predator, even if he is a genius that taught himself how to use Ancient tech, but I’d rather err on the side of caution. I need you to act like a buffer between my female geeks and any unwanted attention McKay might show. Carter indicated that he’s usually uncomfortable around confrontational men, so if he gets out of hand, I’ll need you to rein him in. She said he’s the best person to fix our problem, so I’ll believe her—for now. But I need everyone to be protected. We’re unusually isolated down here, and enclosed environments mean overcompensation.”
Sheppard nodded. “Okay, then. Follow him around, play light switch, and make sure he keeps his hands to himself. I can do that.”
O’Neill eyed the younger man for a moment before saying, “Don’t be too obnoxious or obvious about it, Sheppard. We don’t want to scare him off, and there may be another reason for McKay to be uneasy around assertive men. I know that sort of thing goes both ways, even if I’ve never personally encountered it.”
Sheppard swallowed dryly. “Yeah,” he croaked. “I was just thinking the same thing.”
“Jeannie, are you mad at me?”
There were tears forming in eleven-year-old Meredith Rodney McKay’s eyes as he looked at his older sister. For all of his life, she only had anything to do with him if she couldn’t find anything else to do, so consequentially he followed her around constantly, seeking approval.
When he was just beginning to walk, she was the one he walked to. She’d just turn away.
When he was beginning to speak, her name was his first word. She never said a thing.
When she started school, he would tell her every day how pretty he thought she was, and she just ignored him.
When she had trouble with homework, he would try to help, but she just went to her parents.
Mer cheered for Jeannie when she tried out for the girls’ soccer team at her primary school, or when she sang with the school choir. He told everyone who would listen that she was his big sister, and wasn’t she wonderful!
Jeannie’s school friends were surprised to learn that she even had a brother. When well-meaning parents offered to invite him on outings that she went to, Jeannie would just tell them that he was too young and her parents didn’t want him leaving the house. This worked when she was eight and he was four, but it was odd when she was twelve and he was eight. They just stopped offering and never mentioned to the McKays how Jeannie reacted to her brother.
Obviously they could see it. Couldn’t they?
Still, no matter how Jeannie reacted to him, Mer kept trying to gain her approval. He learned, at age seven, how to play her favorite song on the piano so he could surprise her on her birthday. He learned how to recite her favorite poem, and how to draw pretty flowers on fancy paper, just to cheer her up if she had a fight with a friend. He even begged his mother to teach him how to bake a cake, just for his big sister, whom he loved.
Jeannie would not be moved. She never saw any of it.
When he was learning to play the piano, all Jeannie could see was her mother taking time with the boy and not spending it with her. No matter that Jeannie never wanted to learn piano.
When their grandmother showed him how to draw simple pictures, all Jeannie could see was that Grandma gave the boy her crayons. No matter that Jeannie didn’t color anymore.
When Mer showed some competence with math at a young age and Scott McKay took him to be tested at some special school, all Jeannie could see was her father spending special time with the boy rather than attending her school concerts. No matter that Scott and Elaine McKay were always in the best seats to watch her sing.
And Jeannie tried, really she did. She held the new baby when he came home, and she cooed over him just like Grandma. Until Grandma said ‘What a fine boy he is’ and spent more time with the baby while Mama and Daddy worked. And she tried to play with Mer, but he was too little and kept trying to change her rules for the games because ‘that’s not the way it’s played, Jeannie’. And when she got older, her silly friends would giggle and tell her how lucky she was to have such a cute baby brother.
Didn’t they understand? Jeannie was oldest, but they only paid attention to the boy.
And now they were finally taking the boy away—but it wasn’t a punishment. Instead, Mama and Daddy acted like Mer did something incredible and was getting rewarded! And it was just a stupid school!
“Jeannie?” Mer sniffed. “Are you mad at me? What did I do?”
Jeannie, all of fifteen years old, just looked down her nose at her brother and huffed. “You think you’re so special, but you’re not! I’m not mad at you; I’m glad you’re finally going away! You can just be weird there, where I don’t have to deal with you anymore. And it still won’t matter, because Daddy will love you more because of your big brain, and Mama will cry that you’re not home anymore, but at least I won’t have to look at you anymore!”
Jeannie flounced out the door, passing her mother and father as they carried in Mer’s bags and special blanket, and before she rounded the corner she heard her mother say, “It’s okay, Meredith. Your sister will miss you, too.”
“The apartment’s okay, really,” said Rodney absently, cradling the phone between his shoulder and ear as he paced the small living area. “It’s nothing special, but I didn’t expect much. All of the spectacular stuff will be on the base.”
“Are you going to be okay working with the military, Meredith?” asked his mother over the line.
Rodney sighed. “I think I can just be professional about this, Mother. And this project will help me advance my personal work, you know, so I have to think of this as a good thing. I just wish I knew if I’d be working with Dr. Carter directly, or if I’ll be relegated somewhere else.”
“Dr. Carter? Isn’t she the one that did that paper on string-thingie that you were impressed with?”
“String Theory, and yes. She’s quite brilliant, so when she told me that I was the one that could help them, it was very flattering.”
“Meredith, you are a brilliant man,” said his mother with a sigh. “You always have been. I just wish you could believe that. Surely all of those awards and degrees prove that, don’t they?”
“Well, I might have the degrees, but I haven’t always made the most brilliant decisions, have I?” Rodney snapped. He always felt vulnerable when talking to family. There was a reason he didn’t live closer to them.
“Meredith, you made…bad choices a few times. But you’ve bounced back, haven’t you? And your life is good and full. Now, I have to go, but your father and I are very proud of you. Don’t forget that your sister’s birthday is next week, so you should call or send a card. Bye, now!”
Rodney set the phone on the kitchen counter and bent down to pick up his cat for a cuddle. His life was good and full? Was it? And why didn’t his mother understand that he’d stopped calling his sister ten years ago? She certainly didn’t want contact with him, that was for sure.
Rodney dropped heavily on the rather industrial sofa in his postage-stamp living room and sighed, burying his face in the warm fur of his cat. This move was a good thing. It had to be. He was once again short-listed for the Nobel, and he finally thought he deserved the consideration. He had two published books being used as textbooks at universities all over the country (possibly the world, but he didn’t think about that) and a third waiting for a final edit. He was highly sought for speaking engagements for the Mathematics crowd, and had made quite a name for himself as an adjunct professor at Northwestern (two years) and CalSci (one disrupted year, but he could always return later).
That certainly seemed like a full life, if not a completely happy one. He had a few close friends and could socialize when he needed to, schmoozing those with the tight purse strings in order to get donations for various science projects that he was involved with, so he wasn’t a complete outcast, but he sometimes missed intimacy.
Until he remembered his past relationships; then all longing for companionship dried up completely.
As for family…the less said about that, the better. Everything he was, he owed to his family—for better or worse. They just didn’t understand that.
* * * *
A driver had been sent for him, for which Rodney was grateful. He was carefully escorted through several security checkpoints and had his photo taken for an identification badge before being escorted deeper under Cheyenne Mountain, past NORAD and into Stargate Command.
As the elevator doors opened, Rodney took a deep breath to center and calm himself, and he found himself facing Dr. Samantha Carter—and an Air Force officer with ridiculously messy hair.
“Dr. McKay,” began Carter smoothly, “this is Major John Sheppard, and he’ll be your assistant while you’re here.”
Rodney frowned. “My assistant?” He focused his attention on the officer. “Do you have a scientific or mathematical background, Major? What are your qualifications to ‘assist’ me?”
Sheppard, for his part, merely smirked at the flustered scientist. “Well, I do have a degree in practical math, if you’re interested, but my main qualification is that I have the ATA gene, and you do not. I also have a bit of a rapport with the other geeks that you’ll be working with, so I can smooth the way there.”
Rodney blushed slightly. “Fine, fine. Can you show me where I’ll be mainly working, please? And I’ll need to see the notes on the work that has already been done, as well a detailed accounting of the ‘problem’ that you’ve asked me to solve.”
Sheppard quirked an eyebrow and motioned Rodney out of the hallway. “After you, Doctor,” he drawled, and watched with amusement as McKay fell into place beside Carter.
Sheppard blocked out the conversation between the two scientists as he followed them through the winding corridors of the SGC. Instead, he focused on trying to get a read on McKay. John had been told the other man was abrasive and socially awkward, very possibly a sexual predator, but that’s not what John saw. McKay leaned toward Carter as she spoke, but he didn’t get too close. His hand kept clenching on the strap of his laptop bag, and his shoulders were hunched inward, as if he was afraid he’d be tossed out of the mountain before he did what he was asked to do.
John didn’t see anyone who was a danger; he saw someone who was nervous and intimidated by his very surroundings. John had no doubts that McKay would come off as abrasive and curt, but he also had no doubts that it would be because it was a defense mechanism—a way to keep anyone from getting too close.
John wondered who had hurt him, either professionally or personally, in the past.
Carter had bypassed the science labs and escorted McKay right to the Gate Room, gesturing subtly the whole time as she described the issue they were having with the ‘Gate. Rodney stared, mesmerized, at the ‘Gate, which sat dark and inert at the end of the ramp in the room. McKay’s eyes were huge and wonder-filled, and John understood completely how the man must have felt seeing it for the very first time, because John had felt the same way.
Suddenly McKay became quite animated, arms flying all over the place, and John tuned back into the conversation to hear
“…how has nobody died? Are you still using this? Dr. Carter, you can’t keep sending people through that ‘Gate, or you’ll risk losing someone! I thought you people valued your soldiers?”
Carter’s face darkened with ire. “Now wait a minute, McKay, I don’t need you to censure me on how we run things around here! Those missions are necessary, and everyone that goes through the ‘Gate knows the risks!”
McKay huffed in annoyance. “Well, I don’t like it!”
“You don’t have to like it, McKay,” Carter growled, “you just have to help us fix it.”
John immediately stepped forward, sensing an argument of epic proportions was about to break out. “Hey, now,” he said, placing a hand on McKay’s shoulder, only to watch as the other man backed away. “Let’s get Dr. McKay settled so he can read the reports and start a plan of action, okay?”
McKay drew himself up sharply and nodded. “Yes, let’s do that. I don’t want to risk any more lives if I can avoid it.”
Shooting a sideways glance at Carter, John took the lead and stalked out of the gate room back toward the elevators. He hit the button for the 28th level, two floors below the gate room, and McKay stood stiffly at the rear of the elevator, curled into himself tightly. Carter stood at the front of the small group so that she was first out of the elevator when it stopped, and John and McKay followed her down the hall, past several labs that were open and filled with people. McKay didn’t look into any of the open doors, John noted; he merely kept his head down and his gaze forward.
Carter opened a plain grey metal door and motioned the two men to follow her. The room wasn’t large, but there were three large whiteboards along one wall, a long table with four chairs and a low bookshelf under the single window. Everything other than the whiteboards and the wooden chairs was a uniform, bland, institutional grey, and the fluorescent lighting made it all very stark.
McKay looked around before taking his laptop case off of his shoulder and laying it on the table. “Where are the files and reports that I need to review?” he asked as he opened the case. “I’d like to get started as soon as possible.”
Carter shifted slightly beside him, but John was quick to reply, “Why don’t I give you a better tour of the base, Dr. McKay. You’ll need to know how to find the canteen and break rooms, as well as general supplies. If you’re anything like the other geeks around here, you practically run on caffeine, so we’ll probably have to round up a little coffee maker for in here as well.”
Much to his surprise, McKay nodded and left his laptop in the case. “Yes,” he said warmly, “I do need to know how to find those things, you’re right. I need to eat regularly due to my hypoglycemia, and you’re right about the need for coffee.” McKay offered a rueful grin and inclined his head toward the doorway. “Lead on, Major.”
“I want to be perfectly clear, Scott,” said Meredith Inglerod sternly, “because you are determined to make this choice for the boy, then I want to make the choice easier to deal with.”
Scott McKay stared at his wife’s grandfather and shifted uncomfortably. He had made the decision to send his young son off to University unilaterally, and no one on his wife’s side of the family agreed—with the possible exception of his daughter, Jeannie. There were arguments about care, which Scott countered by hiring a conservator for the boy—someone to take temporary custody while the child attended classes far from his family. There were arguments about possible psychological damage, which Scott countered by making sure his son attended regular therapy sessions, both with family members and alone, and by planning many family vacations so that the boy would not feel separate from everyone else. There were arguments about money, which Scott countered by dipping into his personal savings to pay for the elaborate education that he insisted his son needed, even though Scott’s employers promised to pay for the education in exchange for a promise of a future employee in the boy.
And that was when Elaine’s family stepped in.
“I do recognize that young Meredith is an exceptional child, and that his brilliance must be nurtured,” said the elderly man sternly, “but there is no reason for you to take money that can be used for the rest of your family out of your personal account when I can finance this endeavor completely without difficulty. In fact,” he continued before Scott could interrupt, “I had been making plans to disburse bequests among my extended family now, rather than having them wait for my passing, so that they shall not have to pay too much in inheritance tax, and this shall be a part of that.
“Elaine shall, of course, receive the summer home that she loved as a child, as well as funds for upkeep of the property, and you all should take advantage of the place to maintain your family connection. Sending your youngest child away for any length of time is never an optimal choice, and I do not approve in this instance. I’ll be setting up a trust account for Meredith, to be controlled by a trustee that I shall choose personally, and his education will be paid for from that account. His schooling, housing, and any personal needs will be covered, and you can keep your meager savings for any unexpected expenses that you may accrue personally.”
Scott shot a furtive glance at his wife and found her frowning.
“Grandfather,” she said haltingly, “this is more than generous, of course. But I already don’t like the fact that Scott is showing obvious favoritism toward Mer while possibly dismissing Jeannie’s needs, so I can’t see how you giving so much to him will make her feelings any less…distressing.”
“Elaine,” admonished the elder Meredith, “you should know me better than that. I’ll be building a trust for Jeannie as well, to be used for any education that she wants. I’ll also be giving her several pieces of your grandmother’s jewelry that I know the girl favors. I’ll not be favoring one great-grandchild over another in this manner. My only concern here is that you will be perceived as favoring the girl because you’re sending the boy away, and I want to make his life as easy as possible while he adjusts.”
“Look,” said Scott finally, “I appreciate the offer, of course, and I’ll not be turning it down. But I want to let you know that Elaine and I will not be abandoning our child in favor of having him properly educated. He’ll be attending no more than two classes each day, and we’ll be with him every weekend. I don’t want him overwhelmed; I just don’t want him stifled.”
In the end, Rodney was packed off to live with Rudolph Johanessohn, a child psychologist, and his wife—both hired as care-takers and therapists for the eleven-year-old boy. An apartment was found near the University of Toronto, Scott McKay’s Alma Mater, and Rodney was enrolled in the Mathematics programs. Everything was paid for out of the trust account, and the trustee checked in randomly to make sure Rodney wasn’t abused or neglected.
The McKay family got together on weekends, and Rodney was able to call home whenever he wanted, but he still missed his family and often cried himself to sleep. Johanessohn recommended that the boy be allowed to have a pet, which he was not allowed to have while in his family’s home due to his sister’s allergies, and Scott quickly agreed, so Rodney was taken to a local shelter where he found an orange and black kitten that he named Rigel. The kitten became Rodney’s comfort item, and soon became a sounding-board for all of the boy’s fears and anxiety as well as the happy recipient of the boy’s generous affection.
Within a year, Rodney begged to be able to increase his class load, promising not to become overwhelmed, and his parents reluctantly agreed. Rodney kept his grades up, managing to be the highest-ranked in his class, and even joined a few extra-curricular clubs revolving around computers or chess, but he had few friends because of his age. He was an oddity, and would have completely become withdrawn if Mr. and Mrs. Johanessohn hadn’t kept taking him on trips to museums and concerts during the week and to family excursions on weekends.
Rodney stopped telling his parents about his academic achievements unless he was specifically asked, because his sister had called him a boring braggart and told him nobody cared what he did in school because he wasn’t part of the family anymore anyway.
By the time Rodney was fourteen years old, he’d obtained three undergrad degrees and had planned his graduate work. He still cried himself to sleep most nights, and he still mostly only confided in his cat, which was incredibly pampered and spoiled. He had grown distant from his mother and father, who had decided to concentrate their attention on their daughter because she was still at home, and had considered the Johanessohns to be his closest family, even though they were paid to care for him.
He had also received an unexpected medical diagnosis after a mysterious fever had left him hospital-bound for more than a week. Nobody in the McKay family spoke about the diagnosis, and Jeannie was never informed because she didn’t show any concern when Rodney was hospitalized; it was Rodney’s secret, and in no way did he see how it would ultimately affect his life.
* * * *
When Rodney was fifteen years old, his great-grandfather passed away. Rodney was not especially close to the man, but he had appreciated the trust account that had allowed him to attend school at such a young age, so Rodney attended the funeral and the reading of the will that followed. It was the first time he had seen his sister in four years, as Jeannie had always made plans to be with friends when the family was supposed to get together, and she had chosen to attend a different college than he had.
Rodney (he had insisted on being called by his middle name since he was fourteen years old, and only his mother and sister, when she bothered, called him by his first) sat between his mother and father as his great-grandfather’s attorney read the man’s will, and was amazed and dismayed to find that, along with a treasured pocket watch, Rodney was bequeathed even more money into his trust account. Jeannie, who had received more jewelry, a small home, and money of her own to use as she wished, seemed incredibly displeased with the revelation.
In fact, Jeannie seemed displeased with anything to do with Rodney, especially since she had become a college student herself, even though their parents never once compared the two siblings—never, even, bragged about Rodney’s academic accomplishments when Jeannie was in earshot.
Once the reading was finished, Rodney asked for and received a few moments of private time with the attorney, and once his family had all left the office, he quickly made an appointment to meet with the man two days hence for a private business matter. Then Rodney attended an incredibly uncomfortable family dinner where he tried to engage his sister, once his favorite person in the world, in conversation about—anything. He asked about her favorite music, or movies, or books, but Jeannie only gave one-word answers. When he tried to ask about her friends, she only huffed and said that he wouldn’t know any of them because they were so much older than he was. And when Rodney asked about school, Jeannie snapped, accusing Rodney of bragging about all of his ‘little degrees, like they actually meant anything’ and told him that he’d be stuck in a lab for the rest of his life because he couldn’t deal with the real world.
At that moment, Rodney realized that his family life was basically over. When he proved to be an incredible child-genius, his father had decided to nurture that because it made him look good, and Scott McKay was given more work opportunities as if he were personally responsible for all of Rodney’s achievements. Rodney’s mother tried, but after a few years of absence, she was barely able to have a conversation with him, claiming that she didn’t know him anymore even though he also tried to relate to her; they had become politely distant with each other. Jeannie, for some unknown reason, had decided that her life was ruined the moment Rodney was born, and had treated him with ever-growing disdain as she grew older.
Two days later, Rodney sat in the attorney’s office with Mrs. Johanessohn, and learned just how much money had accrued in his trust account over the years (quite a lot) and began the process of becoming a legally-emancipated minor. Once his future was secured, Rodney had planned to move his education to Chicago’s Northwestern University.
“Look, I don’t know who told you that you were smart enough to reprogram the dialing system, but clearly they should be re-evaluated as well, because they were wrong!”
Major John Sheppard winced as he heard the yelling coming from the control room, and he entered fearing he would have to physically restrain Dr. McKay to prevent him from actually killing someone.
Though, truthfully, Sheppard privately thought the abrasive man was right: most of the people that had been working on the ‘Gate issue were woefully inadequate to the job. He just wouldn’t have stated it so baldly.
John cleared the doorway just in time to hear Dr. Calvin ‘Don’t let him touch Ancient tech’ Kavanaugh snarl, “Just because you slept your way into the program, it doesn’t give you the authority to push me out of this project!”
John saw McKay visibly blanch before he rallied himself. “My authority to push you off this project came from General O’Neill himself, and it came after you almost killed eight people when you programmed the ‘Gate to disengage when the power fluctuated even slightly. If I hadn’t disconnected the automatic shut-off, we would have lost teams six and eight, and the only one to blame is YOU. So take your stuff and report to Dr. Carter for reassignment, because I don’t want you in here to do more damage!”
Kavanaugh stepped threateningly toward McKay, so Sheppard moved forward and clamped a firm hand onto the man’s shoulder, shaking his head. “You really don’t want to do something stupid here, Kavanaugh. Just take your stuff and go; Carter’s actually waiting for you, so you’ll not want to keep her.”
Kavanaugh grabbed his bag and snarled again before storming from the room. John sighed and rubbed the back of his neck with his hand before turning to face a visibly shaking McKay. “Are you okay?” he asked, concerned.
McKay shook his head and moved back to the dialing device. “I’m fine,” he said curtly.
“Look, McKay—we all heard about how you kept the wormhole open this morning….”
“It’s nothing,” McKay snapped. “It’s why I was called in, remember—to figure out why the power has been fluctuating and to stop the wormholes from closing on our people. If I could just keep the idiots out of the way, my job would be infinitely easier.”
“Yeah,” John drawled, “but you can’t keep working alone or you’ll burn yourself out.”
McKay’s eyes darted up to look at him, and John was again struck by how clear and blue they were. The attraction was unexpected, John thought, but it was almost palpable. Rodney (“Not Meredith. Never Meredith, please!”) McKay wasn’t John’s usual type. He wasn’t slender, or even slightly muscular. He was fair-haired when John was normally attracted to brunettes. He rarely smiled, but when he did his mouth twisted slightly crooked instead of spreading widely.
But McKay also possessed a dry wit to match his acid tongue, and John had often found himself chuckling softly while McKay mumbled about the various people that Carter had tried to force into his presence. In fact, the only person McKay seemed to have any patience for was John, and John figured that was only because he had the ATA gene and could activate the equipment that McKay was studying.
“I know I need help in here,” McKay said, startling John out of his mostly inappropriate thoughts, “but the ones I think could help….” McKay trailed off hesitantly.
“What, McKay? How can I help you here?”
McKay slumped back in his chair. “Look, I know what I’m like, okay. I’m not easy to work with, but the people around here seem really afraid of me, and I don’t know why, because I can’t be that bad. Can I?”
John cleared his throat. “There might have been, um, some rumors…about how you deal with people…sometimes.” John again rubbed the back of his neck nervously.
McKay huffed. “Oh. Well, then, I suppose I should work extra hard to fix this problem, then, so I can get out of here and everyone can get back to normal.”
Without another word, McKay opened his laptop and began typing, sending information and searches to the control panel and scribbling results on a notepad. John took a chair and stayed out of his way unless he requested that some piece of tech be brought in or activated. Occasionally John would leave and bring back coffee or food, remembering what McKay had said on the first day about needing to eat regularly, and McKay would hum in thanks.
It was nearing the dinner hour when McKay gave a shout of excitement, startling John out of his computer chess game. “What is it, McKay?” he asked urgently. “Did you find something?”
McKay turned wide eyes to the other man and said, “I need to get into Lab Six, but I’m not authorized to go in there.”
John stared back. “Um…okay, give me a sec!” He activated the radio in his ear and called, “Colonel Carter? Could you please come to the control room? Dr. McKay needs…something.” Once Carter confirmed her approach, John sat next to McKay in an effort to see his computer screen. “What did you find, McKay?”
“I’ve been doing random wide scans of the energy signatures coming from the ‘Gate when it’s in use and when it’s dormant, trying to find what is causing the…well, the ‘stutter’, for lack of a better term.” McKay’s hands waved wildly as he spoke, demonstrating the excitement the man felt, but he was very careful not to move too closely to John’s body. “And I’ve located a corresponding signature in Lab Six.”
“What did you do, McKay—hack into the entire mountain?”
Neither man noticed Carter’s arrival, so the brusque, irritated tone caused them both to jump in their seats. McKay turned around to find that O’Neill had accompanied Carter, and both of them looked mildly irritated.
“Not…exactly,” stammered McKay. “I mean, you asked me here to help figure out what was causing the power fluctuations, right? Well, the Stargate is an Ancient devise, made completely from alien technology, and you’ve been powering it with purely human sources. So I’ve been scanning for energy signatures that might mesh with the ‘Gate components, but I’ve been coming up short. Until now.”
Carter frowned and leaned over McKay’s shoulder to look at the computer screen. “That’s very odd,” she said faintly.
“What’s odd, Carter?” asked O’Neill, feigning patience.
Carter looked at the older man and shrugged. “Kusanagi is working in that lab with Zelenka. It’s all reverse-engineering stuff; weapons, mostly, which is why McKay isn’t authorized to be there. Their latest batch of tech came in two weeks ago, so these readings can’t be all that accurate.”
McKay bristled. “Do either Kusanagi or Zelenka have the ATA gene?”
Carter’s eyes narrowed as she returned his glare. “Yes. Dr. Miko Kusanagi has almost as strong an expression of the gene as Major Sheppard.”
McKay nodded. “Uh-huh. And Sheppard’s expression is not quite as strong as O’Neill’s, right?” Carter nodded, so McKay pointed to his laptop. “Then apparently something in that lab has been sitting in a box for a while and has only now been activated. And if I’m right about those readings, then it can be used for a dialing system to stabilize the ‘Gate.”
“Pardon me for questioning your suggestion, Dr. McKay,” said O’Neill dryly, “but didn’t you just verbally eviscerate Dr. Kavanaugh for reprogramming the dialing system?”
McKay turned a wary face to O’Neill and said, “Well, I’m not going to reprogram the system, General; I’m going to build a new one.”
“Hey, do you want to grab a coffee or something?”
Rodney had been packing his books away after a long tutoring session at one of the public libraries when the dark-haired young man asked the question. Rodney looked up to consider the man before replying: He was tall, taller than Rodney, and broad-shouldered and strong. His almost-black hair was cut close to his head in a military style that could have meant he was just a tidy person, but Rodney doubted that. Just because he was wearing faded jeans and sneakers didn’t mean there wasn’t a uniform and combat boot in his closet somewhere.
“Humphries, right?” Rodney asked, and the other man smiled.
“Yeah, Mark Humphries,” he nodded. “And you’re Rodney McKay. And now that our names are out of the way, would you like to go out for food or coffee, get to know each other a bit better?”
Rodney frowned. “I’m not very good at ‘people-ing’, so forgive me here, but are you asking me for a date?”
The easy grin fell from Mark’s face. “Well, I was, but if you’re not interested….”
“No—no, I’m interested,” Rodney stammered. “I mean, I could be interested. In getting coffee—or maybe getting to know you. Do you go to Northwestern?”
Mark grinned again. “Nope, but I saw your flier in the Math Building at the University of Chicago, and I really needed the help with Calculus. You make it look so easy.”
Rodney blushed. He was eighteen years old, and had never, ever been on a date. Because he was in college at such a young age, living with conservators that kept him from being exploited, Rodney had not made many friends. He was smarter than kids his age, and much younger than his classmates. He was also smarter than those classmates, so that didn’t help him socially at all.
He’d only been living in Chicago for two years, working hard on a double Masters program, and he still didn’t socialize much. He only tutored because his faculty advisor thought it would help him deal with people more easily. Rodney, it seemed, was a natural teacher—but he had no patience with lazy-minded people. In the past two years, he’d gotten a reputation for being able to make the difficult seem simple, and for pushing people away if they acted stupid and intellectually lazy.
“So,” said Mark as he shouldered his backpack, “do you want to hit Starbucks, or would you rather get some deep-dish and beer?”
Rodney blushed again. “Um, how about deep-dish and coffee? I, uh, don’t drink. At all.”
“Sounds good to me. Let’s go!”
Mark Humphries, as it turned out, was an engineering major with an eye toward a career in the Marines, and he was a member of the Marines JROTC on the University of Chicago campus. He had a house off campus with several other cadets, because he hated dorm living, and he was a rabid basketball fan. Rodney was happy to listen to Mark ramble on and on about the Bulls or whatever other teams he fancied and he liked that Mark seemed to like listening to Rodney talk about the progress he was making with his Masters Theses. Mark seemed very impressed at how smart Rodney was.
Mark was also two years older than Rodney, and he seemed very sure about what he wanted from life, and Rodney appreciated that. Especially since Rodney really had no clue about his own future. He’d been in school, making a name for himself in academic circles since his father practically forced him to take IQ tests and early-admissions exams for college at such a young age. His entire life, his father had told him that he was meant to succeed in academics, but he had given Rodney no idea how to survive outside of a college campus and had practically forced Rodney to live in isolation when he wasn’t in a classroom.
Rodney and Mark had been dating casually for three months before Mark leaned in to kiss Rodney. It was another five months before they had advanced to heavy petting. Rodney appreciated that Mark understood how physically and socially awkward Rodney was, and he never pressured him for anything he wasn’t ready for. Occasionally Rodney would attend parties at Mark’s house, to watch basketball games with Mark’s room-mates and their dates, but he didn’t really know how to have conversations with people.
More often, Mark would join Rodney at his condo, which he shared with a member of Northwestern’s faculty, a tenured Chemical Engineering professor who was acting as a conservator at the request of Rudolph Johanessohn, who could not move to Chicago when Rodney left home. Mark was always respectful and polite with Dr. Maxwell, and while Dr. Maxwell cautioned Rodney from getting too involved with someone while in school, he did condone the relationship. Barely.
One evening, after dating for more than a year, Mark and Rodney were alone in Rodney’s condo—and were engaged in a heavy make-out session on the sofa when Mark whispered in Rodney’s ear, “Why don’t we move this to the bedroom?”
Rodney’s mind was clouded by passion and nervousness, and he completely forgot that there was a very good reason for being extra careful, but he quickly agreed and led the way, gently pushing his cat, Rigel, out of the room. Mark was gentle as he helped Rodney out of his clothes before undressing himself, and by the time they were both naked, Rodney was almost begging to be touched.
Never before had Rodney touched another naked person. He had kissed Mark a lot, had even stroked him through their clothes, but this was the first time Rodney had actually held the thick cock that had been hinted at through Mark’s jeans. And Mark’s mouth was driving Rodney crazy, sucking on Rodney’s ear lobes and nibbling down his neck and shoulder. It made Rodney want.
For a first blowjob, it was…enthusiastic. Rodney remembered to cover his teeth with his lips, so that was a good thing, and he kept his suction light, so as to not cause trauma to Mark’s erection. And Mark was hardly just laying there; his hands were stroking absolutely everywhere, fingers seeking entry to parts of Rodney that he’d never thought were sensitive. When Mark found Rodney’s prostate, Rodney pulled back to moan loudly.
“I want to fuck you, Rodney,” Mark groaned. “I need you so bad!”
“Yes, yes, yes,” Rodney hissed, reaching around to find Mark’s arms.
Rodney must have blacked-out from raw pleasure, because he was never quite sure how he had gone from sucking on a thick, vein-y cock, to having said cock pushing steadily inside him, but the sharp pain of entry brought him back to his mind. He forced himself to relax, breathing shallowly through his nose as Mark leaned over him, biting his shoulder. Rodney’s legs were shaking with the effort of keeping up on his knees and sweat was dripping from his forehead onto his pillow. Rodney bit into the pillow to keep from screaming when Mark finally breached into him and held still for a long moment to regain control of himself.
Rodney heard Mark muttering about how good it felt, how sweet Rodney was, but all Rodney could feel was…full. And then Mark moved sharply, and Rodney shuddered with pleasure as his prostrate was again prodded. Over and over again Mark thrust into Rodney, and soon Rodney was carried away with pleasure. It lasted forever, or not long at all, and the orgasm caught him by surprise and he clenched down, dragging Mark along with him.
It wasn’t until later, when they were cleaning up, that Rodney realized that they probably should have used a condom.
“This little thing is going to solve our ‘Gate problem?” O’Neill asked as he picked up the glowing box with wires sticking out of it.
Rodney hastily grabbed it out of his hands, and it stopped glowing. “Only if you don’t break it, General. According to the readings I’m getting on that scanner-thingie that Sheppard is holding, several pieces of equipment in this room will come together to make a more efficient dialing system, capable of holding a wormhole open for up to an hour. If I tweak it well enough.”
John was mentally reviewing the words ‘scanner-thingie’ when the rest of McKay’s statement broke into his thoughts. “For more than an hour? Seriously?”
Rodney glanced at him mulishly. “If I tweak it enough. Now, can you bring that scanner over here so I can find the other compatible components, please?”
Behind them, Drs. Kusanagi, Zelenka, and Carter stood against the wall, watching as McKay sorted through a real mess of Ancient technology, trying to find some magical combination that would allow the more efficient Stargate Dialing System to be built. At first, Kusanagi and Zelenka objected rather loudly about their domain being invaded, but now they were merely curious. Of course, Kusanagi demanded to be part of whatever team was working with the tech that she had been hoarding, snorting when Carter told her that McKay was working on his own.
“He is only one brain,” she scoffed. “What can he do alone?”
John looked over his shoulder as Rodney reached past him for another piece of equipment and said, “Well, he managed to figure all of this out by himself, so I suppose he can do a lot.”
Kusanagi huffed and crossed her arms over her chest, but Zelenka moved forward to offer assistance. “We have another storeroom through that door,” he said helpfully. “We haff not managed to check over everything in there yet. Major Lorne was helping us catalog what we haff found, but he was called away due to family emergency, yes?”
Rodney looked at the bespectacled scientist and offered a half-grin. “Maybe we should look in there as well, then.”
Kusanagi stormed over and placed her hand protectively over the doorknob. “Oh, no you don’t!” she exclaimed. “I have everything in there organized, even if it hasn’t been properly catalogued, and you’re not making a mess in there. Major Sheppard will show me the signature you are looking for, and I will find what is causing it.”
Rodney looked at her with something like horror in his eyes. “Do you mean that you have activated Ancient tech hidden in that storeroom?”
“Of course not,” Kusanagi scoffed. “It is only stored in there if there is no ready power source. Nothing in there is active.”
Rodney slumped in relief and John questioned, “Why is that a bad idea, McKay?”
“Because, in active Ancient tech, there is a slight radiation residue. It’s not enough to cause damage or mutations if the item is in use, but left lying around in large amounts, the radiation could become dangerous. There is a reason I could use a simple scanning program to find compatible energy for the ‘Gate system, after all.”
O’Neill’s thoughtful visage turned stormy and he turned on his favored geeks. “I want every piece of Ancient tech found and turned off if it’s not readily in use! Right now, no questions! We don’t know what a lot of it does, and I don’t need OSHA down here telling me that I’m poisoning my people!”
Carter gulped and snapped to attention. “Yes, sir! I’ll get right on that!”
While O’Neill was snapping at Carter, John looked askance at McKay and asked, “How did you know? About the radiation, I mean.”
Rodney shrugged. “I work in the Physics lab at CalSci, and the SGC has released a few pieces of Ancient tech to several universities for study. I’ve managed to reverse-engineer some of it, to make medical scanners and the like, and I noticed a slight tingle when handling it before it was activated for me. I only assume that the tingle will be stronger when the tech is in greater concentration.”
John shuddered and wiped a hand over his face. “Jesus, McKay, you can be a scary dude, you know that?”
Rodney offered a wry grin. “I’ve been told, yes. Now, how about we go into that storeroom and find a regulator. Or something we can use as a regulator. I can use this stuff and a broken CPU to make a new dialing system with no problems.”
“What do you mean, you’re pregnant?” Mark’s incredulous voice rose with each word, and Rodney curled further into himself as he faced his boyfriend.
“Um, I have the Carrier gene….”
“Yeah,” said Mark with disgust, “I got that, thanks. Look, this has nothing to do with me, you hear? I’m off to OTS in a week, and you can’t stop me, so you do whatever you have to do and…deal with this!” He ran a shaking hand over his eyes and swore again. “Christ, I got involved with a guy for this freaking reason! Guys do NOT get pregnant!” He pointed at Rodney as he picked up his jacket. “Do not contact me. Do not tell anyone about this. We’re through, and I’m not going to let you ruin my life and career over some stupid genetic freakishness!”
Rodney watched silently as Mark stormed out of the condo, slamming the door behind him, then he sank down onto the sofa and began to cry. His eyes were dry and gritty and his voice was almost gone by the time his housemate returned and asked what was wrong.
In response, Rodney only asked that the man call Rudolph Johanessohn.
Days later, Rudolph Johanessohn and his wife arrived in Chicago and got the entire story out of Rodney. Since they were the ones with Rodney when he found out about the Carrier gene, it made more sense that Rodney contacted them for support than his own family. Rodney’s sister was married now, having dropped out of college in order to support her husband, who apparently was some sort of English professor in Toronto, and his mother had retired from performing professionally, only periodically taking students when she got too bored. But his father….
His father, Rodney realized, was going to be pissed.
Once it became clear that Rodney was not only a genius, but was also almost preternaturally predisposed toward Mathematics in all forms, Scott McKay all but promised his son’s services to several engineering firms in Canada, provided they also employ Scott McKay. Scott was a gifted engineer, but was in no way on Rodney’s level, and he had been preemptively riding Rodney’s achievements into a successful career of his own. He just really needed Rodney to back it up.
And Rodney was resigned to do it, if only so he could retain some of the autonomy he’d achieved when he emancipated himself and fled to the United States. But he couldn’t do it if he was raising a baby.
Rodney was only nineteen years old, and was fast-tracked to be the youngest PhD candidate in Northwestern’s history. And now he was alone and pregnant. What was he going to do?
According to Scott McKay, who had plans for his son, what Rodney was going to do was give his baby to his sister, who had recently suffered a miscarriage.
Rodney went to his prenatal doctor visits accompanied by his mother, who was thrilled to become a grandmother, while his father found a family attorney to draw up adoption papers to be signed and notarized before the baby was even born. Rodney had ultrasounds, which were printed out and presented to Jeannie and her husband Caleb so they could begin preparing for the baby, and Rodney’s wishes were dismissed completely. If he asked questions about development, his mother shushed him and told him that he shouldn’t worry about such things. If he expressed doubts about the adoptions, then his father asserted himself and reminded him that he had agreed to work under Scott’s direction after he graduated, “And you wouldn’t want to disappoint me further, would you?”
When his obstetrician asked if Rodney had thought about names, Rodney’s mother said, “Oh, he won’t need to worry about that because he’s not keeping it.”
Jeannie never said a thing to him, although Caleb tried to thank Rodney for allowing him to raise the baby. It was awkward but heartfelt, so Rodney was kind enough to tell Caleb the name of the baby’s father, “Just in case of medical emergencies, or something.”
In the end, Rodney was allowed to hold his daughter for only an hour before she was taken from him. Two days later, he was judged healthy enough to leave the hospital, provided he didn’t exert himself too much, and he went home to his shared condo to review his dissertation.
Rodney defended his dissertation completely alone. He answered the questions posited by the review board with nobody rooting for him. And he waited for the results while sipping inferior coffee completely by himself.
When he got the call that his dissertation was approved, and he now held the title Dr. M. Rodney McKay, the only person he called was Rudolph Johanessohn, who not only congratulated him, the man reminded Rodney that his great-grandfather had added money and management to his educational trust, and that the management had invested wisely. Rodney did not have to honor a desperate agreement to his father; an agreement he entered into in the hopes that he would again gain the approval and love he’d had as a child.
Rodney’s sister hated him for some reason. Rodney’s father wanted to use him for what he could get out of him. Rodney’s boyfriend laughed at him and left when Rodney revealed an accidental pregnancy. He’d never felt so alone, but the one person he had always been able to count on had just reminded him that he didn’t have to beg for a familial relationship.
He could build his own destiny.
Rodney accepted his degree, the first of several, with a sad smile and wondered: Was this what he was meant for?
Thirty-five year old Dr. M. Rodney McKay connected the last wire and stood back as Major John Sheppard activated the Ancient-based Dialing System, rigging it for use by anyone at the SGC regardless of whether or not they had the ATA gene.
The past two days had been spent taking components apart and putting them back together with cannibalized crystals from broken scanners and unused computer motherboards. Rodney found that, despite their tense introduction, he worked well with Drs. Miko Kusanagi and Radek Zelenka—almost as well as he worked with Dr. Larry Fleinhardt at CalTech. They bickered and taunted, but there was no real heat behind it, and Rodney felt that the duo actually appreciated his intellect.
Certainly neither had ever seen someone who wasn’t part of the SGC take to using Ancient tech so easily, especially someone without the ATA gene. Rodney had an innate understanding of how it all should work; it spoke to him on a visceral level. Once Kusanagi and Zelenka understood that, they willingly jumped in to help him built another Dialing System from scratch, using technology that was created around the same time as the actual Stargate.
Once the system was synched to the control panel, O’Neill gave the go-ahead for Sgt. Walter Harriman to begin the dialing process, reaching out for a connection to their Alpha Site, where everyone was on edge to see if the connection worked.
One by one, the chevrons engaged, and Rodney watched, for the first time up close, as the wormhole formed with a loud WOOSH followed by a gentle hum. On O’Neill’s orders, crew members began passing living plants through the gate, followed by small rodents in cages. At the 28-minute mark, the cargo switched back to plant life, as nobody wanted to watch as the wormhole closed on a living animal.
Thirty minutes passed, and the wormhole held.
Forty minutes, and still no flicker.
Fifty-five minutes, and O’Neill ordered that several baked desserts be passed through to the Alpha site so the staff on the other end of the wormhole knew that the pathway was still open on their end.
By the time the wormhole began to automatically disengage, an hour and twenty minutes had passed—time enough to evacuate any number of personnel in an emergency, either to the SGC or from there to the Alpha Site. While they couldn’t guarantee the same result with any gate not directly connected to the SGC, it was enough that nobody had to worry about getting their own people home safely.
All around him, people were laughing and cheering and slapping each other on the shoulder or hugging, and Rodney wondered:
Was this what he was meant for?
Chapter Two: Getting To Know You
There was some sort of ‘Geek Party’ going on in Lab Six, and there had been since Dr. McKay had managed to rebuild the dialing system for the ‘Gate. Mostly John Sheppard was amused by the whole thing, but that was because McKay hadn’t really seemed interested in joining the party.
The fact was, after McKay conscripted a lot of the hoarded tech in Kusanagi’s lab, the diminutive scientist had become absolutely fascinated with the reserved man and kept dragging him into her private sanctuary—and into discussions that John had had not hope at all in keeping up with. McKay, on the other hand, was seemingly reluctant to join in the discussions. Part of that reason was, of course, that McKay still wasn’t a part of the SGC and wasn’t actually authorized to be in that particular lab unless Col. Carter was with him.
Of course, Carter seemed very willing to use the time to pick McKay’s mind on a variety of subjects, and John was dragged along because he was still officially the ‘McKay Minder’.
John didn’t mind, really. Because he and Kusanagi had strong expressions of the ATA gene, the pieces of flotsam/jetsam technology were easily activated, and McKay had the opportunity to show how much better he understood it despite not being able to actually interface with it personally. More than once John had heard the man mutter about leaving it all behind when he left.
And that was another thing—McKay seemed to feel that his time with the SGC was at an end now that his personal project was successfully completed.
“I do have several options, Dr. Carter,” McKay grumbled one day as he was being physically dragged to the elevator bank. “And there is a chance that I can actually go back for my lecture engagement at CalSci before the semester is finished. I’ve done what you wanted, and you’ve paid me in full, so I should be done here, right?”
John frowned in confusion, because surely McKay should be honored to still be around in this incredible scientific environment…shouldn’t he? Apparently Carter concurred.
“Dr. McKay, I’ve been looking into having an employment contract drawn up for you,” she said with a barely-patient sigh. “The work you’ve done on the ‘Gate so far has been…extraordinary, to be honest. Our people had been working on that issue for almost a year, and you solved it in weeks. We’re very interested in having you here full-time, because we think you can do great work here.”
McKay pressed himself into the wall as several Marines exited the elevator in front of them, seeming to shrink visibly. John frowned again, but said nothing. It was something he had noticed almost immediately: McKay was brusque but cordial with fellow scientists, with the possible exception of Dr. Kavanaugh, but he was completely anti-social with the military personnel that populated the mountain. He responded if spoken to, but he never initiated conversation—except to ask for ingredients of food items in the commissary, and he actually went out of his way to avoid being in a room with more than one soldier if at all possible—with only John as the exception.
Even so, while McKay worked well around John, he kept a polite distance between them at all times. A well-placed table usually served the purpose, of course, but John noticed early on that McKay would move away from his work station if John approached too closely.
In the narrow halls, McKay hugged the walls while moving between offices, and John had noticed that McKay had been visibly shaking while they were testing the new dialing system, observed by practically every on-duty Gate Team.
Did Dr. McKay act as if he was mentally superior to most of the scientists in the mountain? Yes, unreservedly, and it did alienate him from the other geeks to some extent. The obvious exceptions, of course, were Drs. Kusanagi and Zelenka, who seemed capable of over-looking McKay’s rude and obnoxious behavior. John had figured, after the confrontation with Kavanaugh, that his main task would be to ‘soften’ that attitude around the other scientists that McKay would have to work around while he was in the mountain. John quickly readjusted his thinking on that front after seeing how McKay reacted when surrounded by people in military uniforms.
He just shut down. Completely.
McKay could converse with Col. Carter fairly easily, but he never used her rank when speaking to her, preferring to refer to her as ‘Dr. Carter’, but he stuttered when talking with General O’Neill, and he shut-up completely if there were more than four soldiers within earshot—and if there were more Marines than flyboys around, McKay would tremble like he was being shaken.
In the four weeks that McKay had been in the mountain, John had adjusted his unofficial job requirements from protecting the geeks from McKay to providing a buffer between McKay and the other military personnel. John still wasn’t sure why McKay seemed to tolerate him, but he wasn’t going to argue. He doubted O’Neill and Carter would have been able to find anyone else willing to work with McKay, even on a temporary basis.
“Why, um, why a contract?” McKay stuttered. “I mean, I’ve finished with the ‘Gate issue, so there’s nothing left for me to do here.”
Carter barely refrained from rolling her eyes. “Dr. McKay, there are untold opportunities for you here. I’ve read your paper on Vacuum Energy, and I think you could come very close to charging a ZPM on your own. By using our resources that could become a reality far quicker than if you work outside of the mountain. We do, after all, have the ability to find base components off-world that could help with that research.”
McKay swallowed. “Well, yes, that’s true. But I could work off-site for that, so I wouldn’t actually need to be here.”
The elevator door opened and Carter led the trio into the corridor. “If you contract to work with us, you’ll have unfettered access to whatever tech we find off-world, Dr. McKay, and that is not something we can allow outside of the mountain for a variety of reasons.” She was talking while walking, passing open doors and personnel moving about their business. With every soldier they passed, John watched McKay try to make himself smaller and smaller. “So,” Carter continued, oblivious, “is there any real reason you don’t want to work here? We can offer you so much!”
“Hey,” said John softly, “you don’t have to make any decisions now, McKay. And you won’t actually have to live down here permanently, or anything, so you’ll get a reprieve from all of this.”
McKay turned grateful eyes to John, and John felt his stomach drop. “Thank you, Major,” he murmured. “That is something to consider if an offer is made.”
And that was the final point, of course: While Col. Carter clearly wanted to keep McKay where she could see him in case he created something wonderful, there were others—those actually in charge of the SGC—that were not eager to keep the difficult man around. And, of course, the Science Division of the SGC was unevenly split on the decision. While Kusanagi and Zelenka seemed to not mind McKay so much, others felt differently, with Kavanaugh being the loudest squeaky-wheel in the bunch. (John cringed every time he overheard the obnoxious man complain that he would have solved the ‘Gate issue if he’d been given more time, so there was no need to bring in McKay.) There was a very good chance that a contract offer would not be forthcoming and McKay would be leaving to do his own research away from the SGC, and John wasn’t really sure how he felt about that.
He’d grown a bit…fond…of the acerbic scientist. Odd, really, since they’d only known each other for a few weeks and McKay wasn’t exactly actively seeking friendships.
When he wasn’t watching McKay write complex formulas on the whiteboards in the office assigned to him, or watching him gingerly take apart the pieces of Ancient tech that they’d had available (in order to reverse-engineer them or to make them work more efficiently), John found himself wondering about McKay’s life in the outside world. It was a foolish endeavor, of course. McKay wasn’t trying to be friends, and even if he were so inclined he was obviously in a relationship of some sort—John had heard him muttering about leaving at a decent hour to get ‘home to Simon’ many, many times.
Finally, after surfing through the teeming corridors, they reached their destination, and Dr. Zelenka called out, “Finally comes a voice of reason! Tell Miko, please, that she cannot plug this power-source into that console!”
Carter stalked into the lab frowning and looked at Dr. Kusanagi’s work station. “I don’t see a problem here, Dr. Zelenka. Everything seems to align perfectly.”
Zelenka sighed loudly. “Yes, yes, it would seem so, Colonel Carter, however I was speaking to Dr. McKay in this instance. I believe he poked at this console two weeks ago and found something…not right.”
“Let me see,” snapped McKay as he shouldered past Carter to reach for the console in question. He quickly set aside the power cell and pushed it to the edge of the work station before flipping the small console over and snapping a panel off the side. “Hmmm, yes! There,” he said, pointing to a cluster of wires and crystals. “These crystals are partially burned-out. Adding live power to this would cause a small amount of feedback; possibly a spark. There are a great many flammable things in this lab, Dr. Carter, and even a small spark could be disastrous.”
“Let me see that,” said Carter, making grabby-hands at the small console. She lifted a magnifier to her eye to better see under the panel and frowned. “How can you tell the crystals are burnt?”
McKay poked around a pile of inactive ‘thingies’ before pulling one toward Carter. “See how these crystals glitter even though this instrument is not ‘alive’ at the moment? Any healthy Ancient control crystal will have that glitter, like a spark trying to come to life. If the crystals look dull, even slightly, then they’re not in optimal condition. Right now, you should be investigating ways to grow new replacement crystals before trying to power instruments with dull ones, just to avoid explosions or injuries.”
Behind them Kusanagi huffed, but John looked at her and could tell she was not actually upset. In fact, from the slight gleam in her eye, John thought perhaps she was trying, in a very sneaky way, to find any reason at all to keep McKay interested in the work she was doing.
“Yes, yes,” muttered Zelenka as he removed the power source, something that looked decidedly Goa’uld to John, away from the work station, “is best to leave damaged crystals out of this lab. Also is best to not mix technologies.”
McKay glared at the power source and grimaced. “Yes, well, I figured Dr. Kusanagi would know better than to actually put a Goa’uld power source into an Ancient device. Apparently I was wrong. In any case, my initial job here is actually finished, so I don’t see why you asked me to stick around.”
Thus began a new round of arguments, completely light-hearted, between McKay and the two SGC scientists, and John just leaned back against the wall and listened with a small grin. Kusanagi wanted to keep McKay because he made her try harder. Zelenka wanted to keep McKay because he enjoyed verbally sparring with him. The trio had the potential of becoming a great team, if only….
The telephone in the lab rang and Carter answered it because everyone else was being too loud to hear it. She spoke lowly for a long while, so long that John finally took notice of her demeanor, before hanging up and facing the bickering trio, and she loudly cleared her throat and brightened slightly when they shut up and turned to face her. “I hate to interrupt such a spirited discussion, but as you seem determined to leave—I have a contract for you in my office, if you’re interested. It was just brought in from Washington.”
A bemused expression crossed McKay’s face and he said, “Well, that’s not…entirely unexpected. I’ll have to look it over, of course, but it’s rather nice to be considered.”
John noticed that Carter seemed rather put-out at the idea of reviewing a coveted contract, so before she could reply he interjected, “Hey! So, how about we hit O’Malley’s to celebrate! I mean, this is a big deal, being offered a contract, right?”
Zelenka and Kusanagi seemed eager to bring McKay into their fold, and even Carter seemed ready to agree to the outing, but McKay seemed oddly reluctant.
“I’d like to,” he stammered, “but I’ve already put in a long day, and I have to get home to Simon.”
Despite himself, John was eager to meet the man that held all of McKay’s attention outside of work, because he must really be something. “You know,” John said nonchalantly, “you can bring him along. I’m sure he’d like to congratulate you as well.”
McKay blinked at him, opening his mouth to reply. Then closing it. Blinked again. “Um, no, I really couldn’t bring him along. I most sincerely doubt that O’Malley’s allows cats in the dining room. But I’ve left him alone all day, and he has anxiety.”
John’s jaw dropped. “Simon is your cat?”
McKay’s posture straightened in a defensive pose. “Yes, he is. What of it?”
John shook his head, steadfastly ignoring the muffled giggles coming from Zelenka and Kusanagi. “Nothing, really. It’s just that you always high-tail it out of here, so I figured you had a boyfriend or husband at home waiting for you.”
McKay snorted. “As if. My work is my life, no matter what that work is. But I adopted Simon three years ago as a favor to a fellow professor, and he has separation anxiety and starts to chew things if he’s alone for too long.”
“It was very kind of you to take in an animal for a friend,” simpered Kusanagi in a tone so friendly that John was almost taken aback.
“Yes, well, my colleague figured it would be a way to force me to work less,” admitted McKay with a shrug. “Larry actually found the neediest cat at the shelter and put my name down as adopter. He said my students would thank me.”
John didn’t particularly care why Rodney McKay adopted the cat; he was single, and that was the only thing that registered. Of course John could only afford to think about that if McKay actually stuck around, but he could work on a tentative friendship in the meantime. Right?
“Well, we don’t actually have to have dinner,” he said casually. “Maybe a celebratory drink instead? Just so you don’t lose some shoes or anything.”
McKay frowned slightly, but said, “Well, perhaps after I actually see the contract.”
Of course, they didn’t go out that night. Carter handed McKay the contract, a stack of pages three inches thick and encased in a laminated folder that John was certain read like a technical handbook, and McKay loaded it into his laptop case and took it home to read.
John was military, so his ‘contract’ with the SGC was different: like many of the Air Force and Marine personnel, John liked his posting and was offered as permanent a place as he could get. Some soldiers washed out, of course, unable to deal with travelling to other planets and dealing with strange(r) cultures, but the ones that liked the challenge were worth their weight in naquadah. And military with the ATA gene were worth more. John had an extremely strong expression of the gene and he liked challenge and reward of the job, so he figured he’d be around for a while. O’Neill liked him and he received promotions as deserved, so he had no complaints.
But John also was unaware of how the civilian contracts were presented. He had one degree in Theoretical Mathematics, and he was working on another in Practical Engineering, but he rarely worked along-side the scientists that ran the necessary experiments in the mountain. Unless he was escorting the geeks through the ‘Gate for some mission or another, or was playing ‘Light switch’ when Ancient tech was involved, he just didn’t really interact with the civilians much. He never really wanted to, before meeting McKay.
Hell, at first he didn’t even want to deal with McKay at all, and just followed his orders to keep the man in line and out of trouble.
But now that John had had the opportunity to work with the man—well, actually to watch the man work—he wanted to get to know him a bit better. McKay had a very dry wit and an acerbic sense of humor that seemed cruel but was actually self-depreciating, and he tended to mutter to himself as he worked out his formulae. The whole time he spent working in the ‘Gate room, struggling to keep the wormhole open long enough to bring home a stranded ‘Gate Team, McKay snipped and snapped at techs and physicists that he felt were ‘less than useless’ (usually Kavanaugh or Dr. Lee) and mumbled insults to himself that John figured he thought nobody else could hear. He also made up swear-words when he ran out of the usual ones, and slipped out of English many times in order to express his displeasure and frustration in French, Russian, and Chinese, and John found himself chuckling under his breath at the antics of the other man even while he marveled at how fastidiously he worked.
But the point was—John didn’t exactly understand how the SGC recruited their geeks or how involved the contracts were. There was the usual non-disclosure agreement that went along with working for the SGC, a hold-over from when the project was a national secret that remained to keep the deep details of what went on inside the mountain—and through the wormhole—under wraps. A lot of the scientists, John knew, were just really eager to work on the forefront of new technologies that were created by reverse-engineering alien tech found through the wormholes. Carter personally recruited from universities and think-tanks all over the United States and Canada, picking top scientific minds that looked like they’d be a good match for the program. The anthropologists were just eager to study the cultures on the other side, but that was a soft-science and was under the purview of Dr. Daniel Jackson, the man who originally decoded the cover-stone and activated the ‘Gate the very first time after its discovery. The medical doctors and researchers dove into the research for new medicines that could be made from alien plants and compounds. John saw, peripherally, how stressed a lot of the geeks were, but also how hard they worked, and yet he knew nothing about how they got there. Or what, really, kept them there through the difficult working conditions.
He really hoped McKay signed the contract and stayed around for a while.
* * * *
Rodney McKay was border-line furious, and he almost felt he had no reason to be. The contract wasn’t exactly unexpected; Rodney had managed to solve a situation that could have proved to be disastrous in the long run, and he also managed to give the SGC a technological advantage with the extended wormhole. Thanks to his hard work and brain-storming, the likelihood of ever having a Gate-team stranded on another world was very slim, and he knew that he looked very shiny to the Powers-That-Be for that reason alone.
It was the contract itself that made him angry. It was insulting at its very core, and very professionally threatening, and Rodney couldn’t for the life of him figure how such brilliant people like Dr. Miko Kusanagi and Dr. Radek Zelenka could allow themselves to be…indentured. Yes, that was the only word for it: Indentured.
Rodney went home the night he received the contract and spent a good hour consoling his petulant Russian Blue, Simon, before fixing a simple dinner of pasta and canned sauce (his diet needed work, he knew) and reading the contract. And then he read it again. And again. He read late into the night, highlighter in hand with a pad and pencil beside him, making notes and highlighting seemingly innocuous phrases or paragraphs, and he grew angrier and angrier. Not for himself, of course, as he had not signed—and would not. No, Rodney was angry for the brilliant men and women he had worked with for the past four weeks.
Finally, as the sun rose on the horizon and the last dregs of his cold coffee were swallowed down, Rodney came to the uncomfortable conclusion that the scientists at the SGC likely knew what they were in for and gladly signed-over their entire academic futures just for the chance to work on such a high-profile project.
But Rodney could not do it.
He’d worked hard for his education. He’d worked harder for his academic reputation. It was everything to him; he’d sacrificed a personal life, any kind of social life, and a family, just to be as well-respected as he was. And everything he earned, he put back into academia in so many ways. He just couldn’t sign it all away.
Rodney showered since sleep was off his agenda for that morning, standing under the showerhead and allowing the steam and hot water to relax the tension in his shoulders and back, and dressed in his Ivy-League best (complete with tweed blazer with leather-patched elbows). He made one phone call to his personal attorney once a reasonable hour had arrived and another to a government contact he’d had since his very first private contract, and arranged for a meeting as early as possible. Then he fed Simon and gathered the highlighted and notated contract and called a taxi to take him back to Cheyenne Mountain.
The morning was chilly, but Rodney barely noticed. Instead Rodney was focused on the coming meeting. He did, he supposed, owe it to Dr. Carter to explain in great detail why he would not be signing that contract. Fortunately the contract did not go into great detail about the work being done in the mountain, so Rodney didn’t have to worry about having his lawyer read into the program just for this meeting.
As the taxi cleared the first gate, Rodney sighed. He’d miss the place for all that he wasn’t there for very long. He’d seen some wonderful and terrifying things during his short tenure, and he felt that he could have possibly made friends there. He certainly would never have been bored, and it almost would have been worth dealing with incompetent boobs like Kavanaugh. Almost.
At the second checkpoint, Rodney exited the taxi and paid the driver and was escorted into the Cheyenne Mountain Complex by a nameless military drone. He paused just outside the main door and sighed again—and then entered to make his way to the public conference room. He’d requested the meeting for ten o’clock that morning, and his lawyer would be arriving just before nine—plenty of time for Rodney to again review the contract and receive input from the legal expert. Miriam Lockwood was a government contract genius, and Rodney was happy to have her on retainer. He’d been working with her firm since he received his first PhD, and her personally for the past ten years, and he paid her well to make sure his interests were protected. He was often too distracted to notice the small details, and had almost suffered greatly for that flaw in his nature.
Miriam had also become a good friend personally, and had hosted Rodney for various holidays over the years since he basically had no family to speak of. She carried licenses to practice in three countries and all fifty of the United States, thanks to the firm’s international offices, and she often travelled to protect Rodney’s interests thanks to the private plane that Rodney provided. He was just very lucky that she actually lived in Denver and was able to meet him that very day, else he would have had to have this meeting much later. While Rodney rarely had difficulty making his desires and displeasures known, he felt that he really needed the legal back-up in this instance.
Rodney was deep into his second cup of coffee—and his eighth re-read of the contract—when the conference room door opened and he heard, “Hey, McKay! What are you doing up here?”
Rodney startled and looked up to see Major Sheppard standing just inside the door, doing that ‘leaning thing’ he did so well. Rodney cleared his throat. “Oh, um, I have a meeting with Dr. Carter and my attorney in a couple of hours.”
Sheppard grinned. “Oh, yeah? Gonna discuss your employment opportunities with the SGC?”
Rodney blushed. “Something like that,” he muttered. For some reason, Rodney always felt flustered around Major Sheppard. “There’s really not that much considering to be done.”
Sheppard sauntered to the table and sat across from Rodney. “Oh, yeah? You’ve already signed?”
Rodney shook his head. “Oh, I’m not going to be signing this contract,” he said calmly as he reached for his coffee cup. “I just felt it would only be decent to….”
Rodney cut off as the door opened again and Miriam Lockwood walked in. “Rodney,” she said smiling, “it’s good to see you again so soon. And who is your friend?”
Rodney blushed again and waved is hand toward Sheppard. “This is Major John Sheppard. He’s been a liaison of a sort for me while I was doing a short job here.”
John offered a charming smile and offered his hand, and Miriam shook it before returning her attention to Rodney. “Well, let’s see this contract, then.”
John stood up and made his way to the door. “I’ll leave you two to it, then. See you around, McKay?”
Rodney looked up with perhaps a bit of regret in his eyes. “Maybe, Sheppard.”
* * * *
John left the conference room and made his way to the elevator bank. He didn’t have a mission scheduled that day but there was always paperwork to be done and he needed to requalify on the shooting range. But he had a rather uneasy feeling about McKay, and he wasn’t sure why. It certainly seemed like McKay was saying a rather permanent ‘good-bye’ up there.
When the elevator reached the twenty-sixth level, John exited and turned toward Lab Six. Maybe he needed to talk to Kusanagi and Zelenka.
* * * *
“You’re unfortunately right, Rodney,” Miriam said twenty minutes later. “I’m sorry. I know you really wanted to be part of this, but unless we can re-work this contract that will not be feasible. I can’t believe the government still gets away with this kind of thing in this day and age.”
Rodney slumped in his chair and ran a shaking hand over his face. “I don’t think it’s a government thing, Miriam. I think it’s a way to keep all the big money within this project. I just…I can’t agree to this. There’s too much at stake.”
Miriam gently rubbed Rodney’s shoulder. “I’ll stand by you and your decision, you know that. If there’s any way to get a decent work contract here, then I’ll find it. Until then, perhaps it’s best that you only had a short-term contract for a specific task, and you aren’t locked in here.”
The conference room door opened and Dr. Carter and General O’Neill entered—fully twenty minutes early for their appointment. Rodney sighed, because of course they’d be eager to sign him on.
Carter was all smiles as she said, “All signed and ready to go, Dr. McKay?” O’Neill, Rodney noticed, looked unsure, with his hands in his pockets as he rocked back on his heels.
“Um,” stammered Rodney as he fiddled with the huge contract, “I’ll not be signing to work with the SGC. Honestly, I can’t understand how any reasonable person could sign this contract, especially if they’ve worked long and hard to build their own reputations.” Rodney looked at Carter and continued, “I understand that you personally go out to find the best and brightest so that Stargate Command can develop technologies to help this world, and I can sort of commend that, but his contract is a pure disgrace.”
Carter frowned, as did O’Neill, and she reached for the contract. “What did you do to this?”
Rodney waved a hand toward the colorful pages. “I took the time to highlight the important parts so I could go over them with my lawyer. The part that really concerns me is on page forty-eight, buried so deeply in legalese that some people might not notice it.”
“Notice what, McKay?” asked O’Neill as he took the contract to flip the pages.
“Most people,” said McKay, “would not take the time to read, carefully, every word and clause in this contract, and would not discover the part that forces the signee to give over rights to every discovery made to the SGC—including any discoveries made outside of this institution, even before employment by the SGC. I find that intolerable.”
Ignoring the look of shock on O’Neill’s face, Rodney continued, “I worked very hard to build my personal academic reputation. I’ve been on the short-list for the Nobel three times, and the chances are looking good for next year, and I have no intention of signing over my accomplishments to the SGC so that you can collect my accolades. When all is said and done, my reputation is all I really have. Every bit of money earned is put back into the academic community by way of special scholarships for students like me, and I refuse to jeopardize that.”
O’Neill frantically flipped page after page, skimming over the highlighted parts until he reached the clause in question, his frown deepening and deepening. Carter looked absolutely flabbergasted, but Rodney ignored her.
“I can’t believe they’d write something like this!” O’Neill growled as he slammed the contract to the table.
“Believe it,” said Rodney dryly. “Look, I could have just mailed it all back to you and packed myself off to California again without a word. I just thought, since you asked me to come and help for a specific task, that I’d do you the honor of telling you why, exactly, I would not be coming to work here full time. Now that I’ve done that face-to-face, I’ll be going back to my flat and packing my things. I have a lot of plans to make.”
Rodney took the time to shake hands with Carter and O’Neill in farewell, but both were too shocked to argue him into staying. Rodney ushered Miriam out the door, and they encountered Kusanagi and Zelenka in the hall on the way out.
“You are leaving, then?” said Zelenka with a frown.
Rodney nodded once. “Yes. I, um, have plans to make, you know. A lecture series to reschedule and all that. It was…it was good, working with the two of you.”
Rodney turned and left before anyone could say anything else, leaving Zelenka and Kusanagi frowning at each other. After McKay and his lawyer were gone, Carter opened the conference room door and frowned at the both of them.
“I need to talk with the two of you,” she said abruptly, and motioned the two of them into the room ahead of her. They exchanged a brief look before entering and sitting across from a stormy General O’Neill.
“Now,” said Carter as she closed the door, “tell me about the contracts you just renewed.”
* * * *
Rodney sighed as he looked out of his office window. It was raining, an odd occurrence for that time of year in Los Angeles, but the temperature was mild. He’d only been back for two weeks, but already his schedule was full with student conferences and tutoring sessions, and his lecture series was back on track. Charlie Epps was happy to see him back so soon, and they’d had dinner several times already because Charlie was eager to hear about Rodney’s exploits—the ones he could share, of course.
Rodney was happy to tell about Kusanagi and Zelenka and how they all got on. It was a kinship not unlike Charlie’s with Larry Fleinhardt—they bickered and argued, but ultimately they meant each other no harm. It was, quite possibly, as close to a familial relationship as Rodney had had in many, many years.
Simon yowled his displeasure and Rodney turned away from the window to pick him off the floor for a cuddle. The cat seemed happy enough to spend his days in Rodney’s temporary office in the Math building, where he got attention between classes and plenty of treats from passing students and staff. He was going to get fat if Rodney didn’t keep an eye on the bits of chicken that made their way in via tutored students.
“I suppose it’s good to be back,” said Rodney as he snuggled the cat, “even if it’s raining.”
“Well, at least it’s not freezing,” drawled a familiar voice from the doorway, and Rodney turned in his chair to see Major Sheppard leaning on the door jamb wearing snug, faded jeans, scuffed sneakers, and a dark blue knit sweater. His hands were tucked loosely into his front pockets and his hair was unruly and he was smirking at Rodney and he looked just…just.
“Sheppard,” Rodney stammered, almost dropping Simon, “what are you doing here?”
Sheppard shrugged. “Well, see—they gave me a job as a geek wrangler, and then my geek left. So I’m all out of sorts.”
Rodney gaped at him for a moment. “Seriously?” he snorted. “What are you really doing here?”
Sheppard rubbed a hand over the back of his neck nervously before entering the office completely and sitting in front of Rodney’s desk. “I’m not actually here alone. Carter is…somewhere. She got waylaid by some Flinthart guy.”
“Fleinhardt,” Rodney corrected. “Wait—Dr. Carter is here?”
“Yeah,” Sheppard smirked again. “She’s got this employment contract for you, see, and she thought she should bring it in person rather than mailing or faxing it.”
Rodney frowned. “I already turned down that contract.”
“And it’s a damned good thing you did,” announced Carter as she rounded the doorway and sidled into the office. “It was a total crock of crap and should never have been presented to you! And does Dr. Fleinhardt ever breathe when he’s talking?”
Rodney laughed in spite of his confusion. “Sometimes he gets on a roll about something—or is in awe of something or someone—and his mouth just gets away from him. He’s not a bad guy, really. A different kind of genius, but we all are around here.”
Carter huffed and dropped a briefcase on the floor beside the second chair in front of his desk. “Well, I have no idea what he was talking about, but he almost convinced me to help him with some sort of experiment on the quad.”
“Ah, that would be his gravity project for his beginning physics class. Why are you here, Dr. Carter? I told you I wasn’t interested in signing away my intellectual property just to work in your mountain.”
Carter flushed with agitation. “Yes, well, as I said, that contract was pure crap. We did some digging and found out that particular clause was placed in there just for you, and was suggested by Dr. Kavanaugh. He has some pretty powerful friends in the organization and he really doesn’t like you, so he figured the contract would either drive you away or cripple you professionally.”
Rodney sighed. “So he’s a vindictive idiot. Great!”
Carter offered a rueful grin. “Well, he doesn’t work in the mountain anymore, so that’s something. After Radek and Miko finished spreading the news of your trick contract around the mountain, there wasn’t a scientist there that was willing to work with him anymore for fear that he’d try to do something like that to them. We stuck him at Area 51, where he has less access to Ancient tech, which really pisses him off.”
“Uh-huh,” muttered Rodney, unimpressed. “And that means what, exactly?’
Carter dug through her briefcase and presented a somewhat smaller stack of papers. “It means we have a more reasonable contract for you to look over. O’Neill couldn’t be happier with what you did with the dialing system and Homeworld Security is excited about how close you are to actually building a ZPM from scratch without our involvement, so they all want you in the program—with much less stringent restrictions.”
“And Zelenka and Kusanagi have been very pouty since you walked off,” Sheppard added with a wry grin. Carter shot him a glare, but he only shrugged and said, “What? It’s true and you know it. The three of them just work together. I don’t understand any of it and I can see that much.”
Rodney reluctantly accepted the contract and shrugged, almost dismayed as Simon made his way around the desk and into Sheppard’s lap. “I’ll, uh, have to look this over, of course, and Miriam is out of the country until next week. While I’m smart enough to figure this out on my own, I always take her advice on contract issues.” When Carter inclined her head in agreement, Rodney added, “I’m also contractually obligated to be on campus until the end of the semester, which isn’t until the second week of December. I’m not running out on my students for any reason, even if some of them wish I would.”
Carter offered a genuine smile. “I really wouldn’t have it any other way, Dr. McKay. Your personal ethics are the reason we want you so badly. After everything you’ve already done for us, we know you won’t endanger anyone in the SGC for any reason.”
McKay nodded before glancing at the clock on the wall. “I, um, have a tutoring session in a few minutes, so…”
Carter stood immediately and said, “Of course. I’ll let you get to that, and maybe I can find Dr. Fleinhardt on the quad?”
Rodney gestured out his window. “The gravity project is going on under the clock tower, because it’s totally cliché.”
Carter offered her hand before grabbing her case and heading for the door. “I look forward to hearing from you, Dr. McKay.”
Sheppard made much business of standing from his own chair, as he was still petting Simon. “Friendly cat you have here, McKay. Maybe you can bring him to your lab on base.”
Rodney frowned. “I haven’t said yes yet, you know.”
Sheppard tilted his head sideways. “You haven’t said no, either.” He shrugged, as if it really didn’t matter either way. “We’re going to be here for a few days more. Do you want to grab dinner later? You can tell me what you like about teaching, because I’m convinced all of my professors hated it and took it out on the students.”
Rodney reached out and took Simon from his arms gently. “I can probably make it for dinner tomorrow, but I have a meeting this evening.”
Sheppard’s lips quirked gently. “I’ll pick you up here, then?”
“Yes, alright. I really need to go now.”
Rodney gathered his thoughts for a few minutes after Sheppard left, wondering briefly if dinner was such a good idea.
* * * *
Sheppard had a donkey-laugh–that was the only way to describe it. He tilted his head fully backward and brayed, and it was possibly the best thing Rodney had seen in a long time.
It had been years since Rodney had enjoyed the company of someone outside of work, and this casual dinner could last all night as far as he was concerned. The topics of conversation covered Rodney’s teaching career, which he actually did enjoy, Sheppard’s favorite postings in the military (not the Middle East, thanks so much), and favorite cities to visit. Sheppard steered clear of talking about his military career before he came to the SGC, and Rodney avoided talking about various government contracts he’d had in the past. It was all light and friendly until….
“So, what does your family think about your teaching career?”
It was a simple question, very innocent, but it had Rodney catching his breath to hold off a mild panic attack. To cover his panic, Rodney drank deeply from his water glass.
“Um, I’m not really…close with my family,” he said finally. “I was in college at a pretty young age, and emancipated quickly to make my own choices about my education.”
Sheppard’s eyebrows rose slightly. “Sorry to upset you.”
Rodney shrugged. “It really shouldn’t bother me after so many years.”
Sheppard reached across the table, stopping just short of touching Rodney’s hand. “Hey, I’m a friend—at least I hope to be. You know, if you want to talk about it. Maybe we can trade family horror stories.”
Rodney took another swig of cold water before saying, “Okay then—you first.”
Sheppard nodded and leaned back in his chair. “Okay. Well, my father is a pretty big deal in the business world—J. Patrick Sheppard of Sheppard Industries, in case you were wondering. And all my life he groomed me to take a place in the family business. I went to the best prep school, where I was ‘allowed’ to play football, but he’d have preferred if I ran track. I went to Princeton, where he wanted me to major in Business Management, but I was a total math geek and got my undergrad in math before he noticed. But all my life, I wanted to fly. I took up skateboarding as a kid, just for the rush, and took up surfing for the same reason, and when I got my trust fund from my grandfather, I took my undergrad degree and lived on the beach in Santa Monica for a year until I found my way into an Air Force recruiting office. During the physical, they told me I could fly if I wanted to, so I signed on the spot. I didn’t tell my father until I was well into basic.
“And my loving father told me that if I was going to lower myself to become some dumb soldier, then I was no son of his, and he took my younger brother into the business instead. I didn’t hear from my father for the next six years. Until my mother got sick and he deigned to send a letter to the last address he had for me. It was a little out of date, and by the time it caught up to me, my mother was dead.”
Rodney’s jaw dropped. “Wow. How long ago was that?”
Sheppard frowned. “Eight years. I went home to visit her grave, and my brother found me there and tried to make nice. After I was brought into the Stargate Program, I wrote to him and told him I’d accepted a posting stateside, and we started writing, but it’s not quite the same. He got married a while back, but I wasn’t exactly invited. Dad’s new trophy wife didn’t even know about me until after the declassification, and that was only because I was on television a few times. O’Neill said I had a pretty face, so I got volunteered to answer basic questions about the program along with Colonel Carter, Dr. Jackson, and Dr. Fraser.”
Rodney snorted before he could help himself and Sheppard grinned in response. “It’s okay, I know what I look like. The whole damned family is pretty photogenic. So—you’re turn.”
Rodney wiped his mouth with his napkin and nodded. “I was pretty young when I started correcting my father’s home project work. He was a design engineer, and I thought math was very…pretty. The numbers made sense to me at a very basic level. Anyway, he liked to brag about his ‘genius son’, so he and my mother took me to get tested, and I was off every chart they had. A lot of my father’s money went to private tutors since regular school was out, and I guess my older sister resented the attention I got.”
Rodney laughed humorlessly. “All I really wanted when I was small was for her to pay attention to me. I practically offered to be her little dress-up doll, just to get her approval, but she was very good at ignoring me. Anyway, with all my father’s bragging, the company he worked for began planning my future—with my parents’ approval, of course. The only one truly on my side was my mother’s grandfather. When Father’s company offered to pay for my advanced education, just so they could control what I learned and where my future employment lie, Great-grandfather stepped in and paid for it himself. He set me up with a trust for educational purposes, and he set up an accounting firm to take care of the trust.
“I was in college very young, so a conservator was hired to care for me, and we moved to where-ever the challenges were. I had a PhD by age twenty, and my father had my future all planned. That’s when my conservator took me aside and reminded me that my great-grandfather had really set me up well, and that I was not completely at the mercy of my father. I could do whatever I wanted, go where I wanted, and I didn’t have to answer to him anymore. So—I didn’t. My mother always kowtowed to my father’s wishes, so she didn’t really have anything to say to me, and once I made my intentions known my father didn’t have much use for me. Every time I tried to contact him, he brushed me off, so I stopped trying around ten years ago. Most of my letters got returned anyway. I do still talk to my mother occasionally, but she keeps pressing for me to rebuild the relationships in the family, like it’s my fault they’re broken.”
Sheppard lifted his beer glass in a mock toast, saying, “We certainly won the family lottery, alright.”
Rodney offered a small smile in return, but there was a shadow in his heart. He’d confided in a friend, but there was so much more to tell. Perhaps one day, there would be an indication that Sheppard could be trusted with the whole story.
Chapter Three: The Past Comes Calling
“What I’m saying is, this is totally possible to do. Right now. But I’d rather not do it on this planet.”
General Jack O’Neill sat back and stared as his newest genius geek, Dr. M. Rodney McKay (multiple PhDs, thank you very much) earnestly explained that yes, he could charge a ZPM. The man had been in the mountain for six months, and already he was sure of this. He just didn’t want to do it.
“So it’s going to be dangerous?” O’Neill asked.
McKay huffed. “We’re going to have to work with volatile materials. You know about the slight radioactive hum that Ancient tech gives off, so yes, this could be dangerous. I’d really rather not accidentally cause an explosion in the mountain, and I’d really rather not irradiate the planet I live on.”
O’Neill groaned and rubbed his eyes. “Okay,” he sighed. “We’ll start looking for a test site. There are a lot of addresses in the ‘Gate system that we haven’t tried yet—or that haven’t shown any promise in the past. I’ll start an exploratory rotation with teams 3, 8, and 12, since they’re not needed for diplomatic or trade missions. And thank you, McKay, for the update.”
McKay rubbed his hands together nervously. “I’d, um, I’d like to be a part of the exploratory missions, if I can. I’ll know what to look for in a test site better than anyone else.”
O’Neill frowned slightly. “You know, I’m not really in the habit of allowing my mission-essential personnel put themselves at risk like that.”
“Dr. Carter goes through the gate all the time!” McKay protested.
O’Neill sighed. “Dr. McKay, I know you don’t actually like to think about this, but Dr. Carter is actually a fully trained soldier and member of the United States Air Force. She has combat experience as well as academic experience, and she is fully capable of taking care of herself on the other side of the wormhole.”
McKay’s back stiffened. “I can be trained, then. I’m certainly smart enough, and I don’t like being a liability. And besides, you’ll need me on whatever planet you choose in order to test the charging units I’ve been working on.”
O’Neill scowled at the stubborn physicist before lifting the handset of his desk phone and punching in a number. “Sheppard! I need you to clear time to train McKay to handle the P-90 and any handgun you think is necessary. He wants to go through the ‘Gate, so I’m making it your job to see that he’s not a hindrance.”
McKay swallowed nervously but squared his shoulders in resolve. “Thank you, General,” he said before leaving the office and heading back to his lab.
O’Neill watched him go, bemused. McKay was an interesting fellow, that was certain. He was almost a pure academic, visibly uncomfortable around the military that populated the headquarters of the SGC, but his strong and hardy personality gave him a reputation as ‘difficult’. Except—he wasn’t. In the six months that McKay had been in the mountain full time, productivity had risen in all departments by 40%, which was certainly nothing to sneeze at. And in that time, McKay had finished personal research into vacuum energy that could well earn him the Nobel that was being awarded at the end of the year.
O’Neill often found himself hovering outside McKay’s lab just to listen to the excited chatter coming through the door. He didn’t understand much of it, but there was something tremendous going on in there, and he was pleased to be even a small part of it.
He was also amused to watch as one of his very best, Major John Sheppard, began to orbit McKay in earnest, clearly interested in more than just a friendship but not willing to press for it. It reminded him of his courtship with Daniel Jackson at the beginning of the Stargate Program, all tentative flirtations and overt friendship and hopeful glances. It was difficult for O’Neill back then because it was a new exploration mission and he was fresh from a divorce and still mourning the loss of his young son. Daniel didn’t know what to make of Jack in the beginning, but he was lonely and ostracized, and he welcomed the friendship. And then he went through the ‘Gate and met a girl and killed a god, and O’Neill wrote him off as lost forever.
Jack reached out and touched a photo frame on his desk, repositioning it so he could see it better: Jack and Daniel, cuddling in front of a fire pit at O’Malley’s Bar and Grille. Times certainly had changed, and Jack was happy with his personal geek to keep him warm at home—and hopping at work.
He kind of hoped it worked well for Sheppard, because he’d need all the help he could get.
* * * *
Rodney threw himself into firearms training just like he threw himself into everything that was important to him: with a whole heart and stubborn jaw. Certainly he was more comfortable surrounded by whiteboards and computers, but he gritted his teeth and learned how to take a weapon apart and reassemble it quickly and correctly. He learned how to load, aim, and fire with accuracy. He learned how to carry with confidence.
What he sometimes had trouble with was the close contact with John Sheppard as he was shown how to hold and aim the weapon correctly. Logically, Rodney knew it was necessary for Sheppard to stand close to him and manipulate his arms and legs so that his stance was correct, but he didn’t have to like it.
And he did.
And Sheppard had a habit of inviting himself to Rodney’s apartment after hours—always accompanied by Kusanagi or Zelenka or both, in order to keep the appearance of propriety—just to ‘relax and chill’. Sometimes they’d watch movies. Sometimes they’d play some inane trivia game with enough obscure categories that nobody had an edge. And sometimes they’d convince Rodney to leave Simon for a few hours so they could have a night out. All very friendly.
And Sheppard was very courteous to Simon, offering pettings and the occasional catnip toy (but never food treats without asking Rodney first if it was okay).
Since Rodney had permission to bring Simon into ‘the office’ a few times a week, always when they were not working with tech, the cat had chilled a lot, and the affect on his fellow scientists was amusing because they all found reasons to come into his lab to ‘visit’ Simon. They called it ‘sanity breaks’, and Rodney would be foolish to deny them because Simon enjoyed the visits as well. And Sheppard was always inviting himself in for sanity breaks as well when he wasn’t leading SG-3 through the ‘Gate.
Fortunately no other members of the military felt the need to visit McKay’s lab, because he wasn’t sure he could have stood for it.
Still, with his usual perseverance, Rodney passed all qualifications on firearms and physical readiness, since Sheppard also managed to drag Rodney out of his apartment freaking early every day for a morning run before work. He was frequently exhausted, but he was in better shape than he’d ever been, and he was finally ready for his first trip through the wormhole.
He was scared to death!
Miko Kusanagi was sitting on a stool in his lab, holding Simon and chattering on about some new experiment she was getting ready to begin, while Rodney was ‘gearing up’ in his new BDUs and combat boots, and boy did it feel weird to dress that way.
“You will be fine, McKay,” she said soothingly. “Radek and I will care for Simon, and you will find the perfect test site for your charging system, and all will be well.”
Rodney looked up from where he was buckling his thigh holster and grimaced. “I don’t know how anyone gets used to wearing these things! They’re uncomfortable as hell.”
Miko smirked at him and replied, “But they’re very sexy, yes? And besides, at least your boots no longer chafe, so you won’t limp through the gate.”
Rodney straightened and adjusted the strap on his pack. “Have you ever been through the ‘Gate?”
“No. It is not necessary at the moment.” She paused for a moment before saying, “I suppose that will have to change if you are quick to finding a good test site. Radek and I will not allow you to test alone, you know.” She sighed deeply and buried her face briefly in Simon’s warm fur. “I suppose I shall have to berate the General into allowing us to train also to go through ‘Gate.”
Rodney smirked. “Well, you are very good at berating, so I suppose you’ll be successful. Well, I guess I’d better head to the ‘Gate room. I don’t want to keep anyone waiting.”
Rodney stalked through the hall to the elevator showing more confidence than he was actually feeling. He’d be part of SG-3 for this exploratory mission, so Sheppard would be with him, which was good. Of course the rest of SG-3 was made up of two Marines, Aiden Ford and Dean Bates, and a geology tech, Evan Lorne, and Rodney had not spent any time around any of them. Logically he knew that he should be safe, that O’Neill would not allow anyone to serve in the mountain if they were completely abusive, but it really didn’t calm his nerves.
And there was also the issue of dematerializing through the wormhole and being shoved back together on the other side. It was pure Science Fiction, no doubt, and it was nerve-wracking and exhilarating, and if Rodney was lucky he wouldn’t throw up on the other side. He’d heard stories about that happening, and he refused to show weakness to the men he was going to be with.
Rodney was the first one in the ‘Gate room, and he took the time to examine the actual ‘Gate up close and personal. Since he’d rebuilt the dialing system, Rodney hadn’t really spent time in there, and he felt that was a true shame. It was almost his baby, now, so he should take time to show it care. Rodney walked up the ramp and ran a trembling hand over the ring of sigils shaped like chevrons that lined the outer part of the Stargate. The stone-metal of the ‘Gate gave off the same low-level vibration of all Ancient tech; proof enough that the Goa’uld were not the creators of the Stargate system. Goa’uld technology didn’t have the same energy signature even if some of it was compatible with Ancient tech.
“It’s something else, isn’t it?” came from behind him, and Rodney turned to see Sheppard standing at the end of the ramp.
“Yeah, it really is.”
Sheppard tilted his head slightly. “You’re not nervous, are you?”
Rodney laughed. “Of course I am! I’m about to be completely deconstructed at an atomic level and rushed through space to another part of the galaxy, I think I have a right to be nervous!”
Sheppard chuckled softly, and Rodney felt something inside of him clench. “Man, McKay, I’m really glad you weren’t here when I first started going through this thing, because that description is downright morbid!”
Rodney shrugged and walked down the ramp. “It’s morbid, but it’s accurate. I have to live with the facts because the facts won’t lie. Platitudes don’t make things safe, you know.”
“I do know. Now, let me check your weapon before the rest of the team gets here. I know what you’re capable of, but I have an irrational need to double-check everyone.”
Rodney gamely released the P-90 from his vest and handed it over. “Do you check for everyone?”
“Hell, yes, he does!” Dean Bates announced as he entered the ‘Gate room, followed by the rest of SG-3. “Shep’s a real mother hen, he is, but we live with it.”
Rodney swallowed deeply and calmed himself. These men were not going to harm him, and if he had to repeat that over and over in his head during this whole mission, then he would.
O’Neill appeared in the window of the observation deck, like he always did before a mission, and Rodney joined the rest of the team in a small cluster at the foot of the ramp. He watched as Walter Harriman pressed the controls on the dialing computer that Rodney himself built, and the chevrons began spinning in sequence—and then the WOOSH of the wormhole engaging. O’Neill announced, “SG-3, you have a go!” and Rodney took his first steps into another reality.
* * * *
“Well, your vitals are fine, but you’ll need to get a meal as soon as possible, Dr. McKay.”
Rodney jabbed gently at the adhesive bandage on his arm and rolled down his sleeve. It was the same thing after every trip through the ‘Gate: He’d eat normal meals when he was off-world, but his blood sugar would drop almost dramatically on the return trip. The hypoglycemia was a concern when he first began making the trips, but he countered by carrying extra powerbars in a pocket in his BDUs and he nibbled frequently. He heard some of the guys on the team make small jokes about it, but Sheppard schooled them quickly, reminding them how dangerous it would be if Rodney’s blood sugar dropped while on a mission.
Rodney shot a half-hearted salute to the nurse that gave him the post-mission check-up and hopped off the exam table, hoping to make a detour to his lab before hitting the commissary for food. Radek had been caring for Simon while he was gone this time, and the mission was three days long. He missed his cat, dammit!
“Hey, McKay! We gotta hit the mess!”
Rodney stuttered to a halt as Dean Bates’ voice reached him. He spun around and reached into a pocket before brandishing a powerbar at the other man. “I’ll be fine for a little while yet, Bates, but I have something I have to do first.”
“Okay, McKay, but don’t let Shep catch you not eating!” Bates said with a laugh before heading away from Rodney.
Rodney opened the powerbar and took a bite, smiling to himself. Sheppard was indeed a mother-hen when it came to his ‘Gate Team. Rodney had been going on exploratory missions with SG-3 for almost a month now, and while he wasn’t completely comfortable in the group, he was getting used to them and he certainly had learned to trust them in the field. If any of them noticed his unease, they didn’t remark on it, and he was frequently invited to after-work activities with them. He was pleased to be invited, but he always begged off. He’d learned long ago not to give the ‘wrong idea’ to military men, and he tried to always be very careful.
Rodney finished his powerbar by the time he reached Miko’s lab, and he opened the door to see Radek and Miko jiggling long pieces of yarn for Simon to chase. Of course, once he noticed the door opening, Simon turned his attention away from his minders to look at the newcomer, and the cat meow-ed loudly and launched himself into Rodney’s arms.
“Hey, there, pretty kitty,” he cooed to the cat, “did you miss me?”
“Of course he miss you, Rodney,” Radek drawled as he climbed to his feet. “Is very spoiled cat.”
Rodney rubbed Simon’s ears and sighed. “So,” he began casually, “I think we found a place.”
Immediately Miko and Radek became alert.
“Tell us!” demanded Miko with her hands on her hips. “It’s not nice to tease like this!”
Rodney chuckled and leaned back against the wall. “We’re having a debrief after we all get something to eat, and you both should be there. This could really be it, so I hope you’ve managed to qualify to go through the ‘Gate. Now,” he sighed and handed the cat back to Radek, “I have to make my way to the commissary before Sheppard comes to drag me there. I ate a powerbar on the way here, but I know it’s not enough.”
“Go!” said Radek as he accepted Simon. “Get food and we will meet in briefing room later. I hope is good news.”
Rodney met Sheppard at the entrance to the commissary and the taller man just gave him a mild glare. “I know you had to hold Simon for a minute, so I’ll give you a pass on this one, but let’s not cut it so close next time, okay?’
Rodney nodded. “I did have a powerbar on the way to Miko’s lab, if that matters at all. I have no intention of ending up in the infirmary with an IV stuck into my arm. I don’t like needles that much.”
Sheppard clapped Rodney on the shoulder lightly and guided him to the mess line. “I have no doubts. Now, let’s hope they have turkey, yeah?”
“You’re going to turn into a turkey sandwich one day, and I’ll just laugh at you,” Rodney muttered as he picked up a tray and got in line.
Sheppard brayed his loud donkey-laugh, causing several people to turn and look at them. “Our lives are not that Sci-fi, McKay!”
Sheppard guided Rodney to the table SG-3 was sitting at, and they all ate in companionable silence. Rodney wasn’t talking because he was excited about presenting a possible testing site for the ZPM charging system, and he figured everyone else felt pretty much the same way.
Of course, there was more about that planet, PX3-866, that Rodney needed to explain, and he wasn’t sure if Sheppard was even aware of it—there was a buzz in the air near the rocky drop-off adjacent to the planet’s Stargate, and that buzz felt to Rodney the same way Ancient tech in large quantities felt. There was tech there, hidden somewhere, and if Sheppard wasn’t so busy concentrating on looking for possible enemy hide-outs or weapons, he might have also felt it. Surely with his super-ATA gene, he must be aware of it.
Finally everyone was finished eating, so Sheppard ushered the team toward the elevators down the hall. Rodney managed to situate himself into the center of the group so that he was surrounded by SG-3, but nobody said anything about it. Of course once they reached the elevator bank it was crowded with other teams moving between floors, and Rodney stiffened quickly with discomfort.
Bates shot Sheppard a questioning look, but Sheppard just shook his head, so Bates said nothing. Instead, the team pressed closer to Rodney, effectively shielding him from the other teams until an elevator came that was mostly empty and headed in the right direction. Rodney gave an audible sigh of relief once they were on their way and Sheppard just patted his shoulder.
When the elevator stopped, Rodney held himself back while the rest of the team disembarked, and Sheppard stayed beside him.
“Look,” Rodney said softly, “I know you don’t understand, and I’m not entirely sure I can explain it. But after we get this whole situation taken care of, I promise I’ll try, okay?”
Sheppard stooped down to look Rodney in the eye and said, “Hey, buddy, you don’t owe me anything, okay? We’re friends, and friends don’t owe explanations.”
Rodney relaxed minutely and huffed. “I know I don’t owe it, but…there’s a lot in my life that’s just complicated. I never managed to have friends until I went to work at CalSci, and I didn’t go there until four years ago, okay, so how sad is that. Being friendly is…difficult for me. When people get close….”
“Rodney, I understand. You don’t have to say anymore. Let’s just debrief O’Neill and get an action plan together, and what comes, comes.”
Rodney swallowed and nodded, hugging his arms close to his body for a moment before relaxing and moving down toward the conference room.
* * * *
“The tentative geology report looks good, sir,” said Evan Lorne as he finished his report. “There seems to be no seismic instability and no indication of explosive minerals near what could be the charging site. I’ll have to do some more mineral testing, but that’s just so I can make sure there will be proper shielding for every eventuality.”
“Good, good,” said O’Neill. “McKay, what say you?”
Rodney licked his lips and sipped some water to moisten his mouth. “Well, sir, there was no sign of any activity near the Stargate, and we found no sign of occupation within six miles of what I hope will be the testing site.” Rodney looked at Sheppard, who nodded encouragement. “We all think this planet will be a good site for us, but I think I noticed something that Major Sheppard was possibly too distracted to notice, and it could be very exciting.”
Sheppard leaned forward and asked, “What did I possibly miss, McKay?”
Rodney looked down at his hands and said, “I felt the buzz of Ancient tech in the vicinity of the cliff about three kilometers east of the Stargate. I was there with Bates while you and Lorne were taking rock samples some distance away.”
Sheppard frowned. “And you didn’t tell me why?”
Rodney shrugged. “There was no pressing need, because we were not equipped for more than a cursory examination of the planet. We need to get a couple more teams together for a longer exploration to find the source of what I felt. That storm began to roll in, and we were running for the ‘Gate, so it slipped my mind until we were eating just a while ago.”
O’Neill made some notes on the pad in front of him before looking up and asking, “Was there any indication of high levels of Ancient Radiation, McKay?”
Rodney shook his head. “There was a light buzz in the air, but nothing like when that scanner was leaking. It felt more like a cluster of red control crystals. Healthy, but not strong—that’s the only way I can think to describe it. Other than that aberration, the site looks good.”
O’Neill tossed his pen onto his notepad and leaned back in his chair. “Right, so we’ll set a plan of action to survey the site on a deeper level, just to locate that ‘control-crystal buzz’ that McKay felt, and once we clear that, we’ll set a plan for testing the charging system. McKay—good job!”
Rodney preened slightly as O’Neill left the room, leaving SG-3 to turn and stare at him. “What?” he asked defensively.
“I just want to know how you’re able to feel Ancient tech energy when almost nobody else without the gen can,” said Aiden Ford peevishly.
Rodney huffed. “Oh, well, that’s easy: I do have the gene. It’s just very weak and very recessive, so I can feel when I’m close to the tech, but I can’t use it without help. Dr. Fraser figured it out after my initial physical when I came on full-time.”
Sheppard’s jaw dropped. “And you didn’t think to tell me?”
Rodney rolled his eyes. “My expression of the ATA gene is so freaking weak that it might as well not exist. The only advantage it gives me is a unique ability to work with the tech after it’s been activated—and a weird understanding of how it works. Until now, there has been no reason to mention it to the team because this is literally the first time I’ve noticed that annoying buzz off-world since I’ve been going off-world.”
“Okay,” said Bates with a shrug, “that makes sense. What I want to know is—what does it feel like? Because I thought I felt something near that cliff as well.”
Rodney frowned. “It’s like a static charge on a winter day, you know? Right before you shock your hand on a doorknob?”
Bates nodded and said, “Yeah, I need to get checked in the infirmary, because I definitely felt that.”
Ford tossed his pen on the table and crossed his arms, slouching and pouting. “Man, I miss all the good genes!”
* * * *
“So, the not-so-exciting thing is that Bates has a slight expression of the ATA gene, just like I do,” Rodney said as he poured coffee into a mug in his office.
“Uh-huh,” said Radek as he sipped his own brew, “and what is the very-exciting news?”
Rodney looked at his friend and his mouth quirked slightly. “I actually don’t know. There’s something there, but I don’t know what. It’s big, that’s for sure. Anyway, I want Miko with us when we go for the longer recon, because between her and Sheppard, they should be able to activate anything we do find.”
“Yes, yes,” Radek said calmly. “Makes very much sense. I shall sit here and cat-sit while you all go out and play.”
Rodney laughed. “It’s not like that, Radek, and you know it. You’ll be right there beside me when we actually test the charging unit, because I’m sure I couldn’t do it without you.”
Radek smirked. “You flatter because it works for you, but we both know you did all preliminary work alone. Is why Nobel committee is after you. You will revolutionize how power is made, and all steps but this one were completed alone away from SGC.”
Rodney shook his head. “I honestly don’t know how I managed to do so much on my own, really. It seems like a life outside of my own.” Rodney sighed before drinking deeply from his mug. “In any case, Sheppard estimates that we’ll be gone for a week at least unless we find what we’re looking for right away. Those cliffs are immense, and they’ll take time to explore. We’re taking experienced climbers because it’ll be tricky-going. I’m just glad I don’t have to hang off a rope to do that part.”
“Yes,” said Radek dryly, “you could slip and damage important brain.”
* * * *
The fourteen-person recon team, consisting of SG-3, SG-4, SG-8, Rodney McKay and Miko Kusanagi, had been on PX3-866 for four days when Sheppard, dangling from a rappelling line next to S&R Captain Daily, placed his hand on a smooth section of cliff wall and triggered some sort of door. The whole cliff opened like a garage door, revealing a large dark cavern.
“Holy cow, McKay,” shouted Sheppard, “you were right! We gotta get some light down here, because I can’t see a thing!”
Everything progressed quickly from there, with rope ladders being lowered down the cliff wall so that everyone could begin searching the cavern. Rodney stayed close to both Sheppard and Kusanagi because while they were the real gene carriers in the group, Rodney had the preternatural sense for Ancient tech. Bates stayed near Rodney because he wanted to learn how to use his new ‘spidey-sense’ like Rodney did.
Flashlights were employed with prejudice, along with LED lanterns, and soon the cavern was revealed to the naked eye. It was huge, like a small airplane hangar, with smooth walls and floor and a slightly jagged ceiling. There were rows of consoles along one wall, like some sort of control center, but they were either dead or completely mothballed because they were not responding to either Sheppard or Kusanagi. Rodney, however, was feeling drawn toward the dark rear of the chamber, and Bates followed along to keep an eye on the scientist.
Suddenly Rodney stopped moving and called out, “Sheppard! Over here, now!”
Sheppard and Miko both came running, with the rest of SG-3 following closely behind. Shining flashlights revealed another side chamber, but Rodney directed Sheppard to place his hand on the wall in front of the new passage.
“Try to activate here, Sheppard. I think there may be a power source there.”
Sheppard did as asked and touched the wall just below elbow-height and thought ‘ON’. There was a flicker, and then a small red light appeared on a panel in the wall. Miko rushed forward to pry it open and gasped as she found a cache of mostly-dull red crystals. There was a switch under the panel, so she flipped it before anyone could say anything, and every console in the first chamber lit up.
“Well,” said Sheppard dryly, “we know there’s power here.”
“There’s more than that,” said Rodney from around the corner of the side chamber, and Sheppard looked around the corner and gasped.
“Look,” said Rodney with deceptive calm, “I think we have space-ships.”
With that small declaration, every soldier in the place came running, almost overwhelming Rodney in their eagerness. Rodney stepped back and hit the wall with his foot, revealing another panel—this one containing a depleted ZPM. Rodney sighed deeply.
“If I was a person that prayed, I’d be offering thanks right about now,” he muttered.
“Why is that, McKay?” asked Bates.
“Because,” Rodney replied, “we not only have the perfect place to test my charging station, we also have a perfect testing device without removing the ZPM from our ‘Gate room. And if I spend enough time down here, I’ll be able to figure out how those little space-ships work.” Rodney groaned. “Oh, no, I’ll need to find someone to take care of Simon while I’m here, and he’s gonna hate me when I get back.”
Bates turned incredulous eyes to McKay and snorted. “You’ve got to be kidding, right? I mean, the whole team isn’t going to be needed for this deal, so we’ll all chip in to take care of the cat, and I’m damned sure he won’t hate you for being gone if we keep him busy.”
Rodney turned to him, shocked. “You’d all do that?”
Bates smirked. “Yeah we would. Well, maybe not Ford, because he’s allergic, but the rest of us would. You’re part of the team, right?”
* * * *
Jack O’Neill wanted to be on hand personally to witness the charging of the ZPM (actually, he wanted to be on hand to see the tiny space-ships), but General Hammond of Homeworld Security was uneasy sending him off-world for a potentially dangerous situation, so Colonel Samantha Carter was there instead—and she felt completely useless during the entire process.
Rodney McKay was in his element, with four laptops hooked to the small console he built for the charging station and Miko Kusanagi and Radek Zelenka by his side chattering in several languages at once. In fact, since joining the SGC formally, Rodney took the time to learn conversational Japanese and Czech just so he could banter easily with his favorite colleagues. It was maddening, to be sure.
Carter just sat out of the way, watching bemused as Rodney dashed back and forth between his charging station and the depleted ZPM they found in the cliff chamber. Wires were connected, disconnected, and reconnected in varying configurations. Sensors blinked with dizzying alacrity and there was a distinct ionic charge in the air.
“It’s pretty wild, isn’t it?” asked Major Sheppard as he sat by her side. “I mean, I gave up trying to understand what they were doing a long time ago, and I’m no slouch in the brain department.”
Carter shook her head. “There’s a reason McKay is a big name in the scientific community. If he could actually teach people to do what he does instinctively, the world would be a different place. We’re just lucky that Kusanagi and Zelenka seem to be able to translate his madness into actual math, otherwise we’d be dead in the water here.”
Sheppard nodded in agreement. “Yeah, it’s pretty amazing. To be honest, I really hope he can get those little puddle-jumpers up and running.”
Carter turned to look at him. “Puddle-jumpers?” she asked, amused.
Sheppard shrugged. “They look to be about the right size to maneuver through the Stargate, so Ford wanted to call them ‘Gate Ships’, but they’re too small to be actual ‘ships’, so Bates over-ruled him.”
“Uh-huh. And why does your team get to name them?”
“Because,” Sheppard said seriously, “McKay actually found them, and he’s part of the team. It’s a rule.”
Carter snorted. “The general is pretty excited about them as well. I just hope they’ll actually be useful. Too much of the good tech that we’ve found is only usable by ATA gene carriers, and we don’t have enough of those in service. It’s too dangerous to publicize what makes you so special.”
“I know,” Sheppard agreed, “and I’d hate to see any kind of policy that made blood tests mandatory for service. It borders on the creepy.”
Finally, McKay punched a series of buttons on his charging station and waved Miko and Radek away from him. “Go sit with Sheppard where it’s safe. I’m reasonably sure this won’t blow up, but you never know.”
Once everyone except McKay was safely behind the natural rock barrier, Rodney took a deep breath and threw the switch on the charging station. For a long moment, nothing happened. Then a soft whine began, growing louder as the fiber-optic wires connecting to the ZPM began to glow in a pulsing light. The pulses grew faster and faster, and Rodney kept a weather-eye on his gauges, mentally crossing his fingers that nothing exploded. In his private notes, Rodney estimated the destructive power of an unstable ZPM as roughly the equivalent of five 15-kiloton nuclear bombs, but he never revealed that to anyone. If this attempt was successful, Rodney vowed to destroy that particular journal, because nobody needed that kind of information. Nobody.
Ten minutes passed before the whine began to fade and the pulsing light began to slow. All the gauges remained clear, and after a few moments, Miko crept closer to watch over Rodney’s shoulder. Sheppard, sensing there was no clear danger, also crept closer, just in time to see the pulsing light stop completely.
Rodney quickly disconnected the fiber-optic wires, first from the charging station, and then from the ZPM, and Miko waved Radek closer so they could begin scans of the slightly-glowing unit.
“It’s full,” Radek muttered as he adjusted his scanner. Startled, he looked up at Rodney and grinned widely. “It’s full, McKay! You have done it!”
Rodney spun around so quickly that he almost fell over, and Sheppard caught him by the elbow. “I did it?” he asked excitedly, and Radek began to laugh.
And Rodney began to laugh. And to jump. “I did it!” he shouted, and in his excitement he wrapped his arms around Sheppard’s shoulders and hugged him tightly. Sheppard returned the hug, holding the scientist close for a long moment before Rodney regained his senses.
“Uh—sorry, Sheppard,” Rodney stammered, embarrassed. “It’s just….:
“The moment,” Sheppard continued. “I understand, because this moment is awesome!”
Sheppard grinned at McKay before being spun around as both Radek and Miko hugged him, leaving Rodney laughing behind his back.
Rodney looked up at a smiling Carter and said, “I did it!”
“So I saw,” she laughed. “Now what are you going to do?”
Rodney took a deep breath and said, “Well, first I think we should put this unit back into the panel in the cliff-side. I don’t know how long those consoles have been shut down, but there is data there for us to find. Also, I need to see if one of those consoles can help power-up the puddle-jumpers, because if we can use them through the Stargates, it could mean easy evacuation in emergencies or easy troop movements. When I’m done here, I’ll want to bring the depleted ZPM from Area 51 here for recharging, because I feel it’s still not a safe process for Earth.”
Carter nodded in agreement. “Yes, that’s a good plan. After that one is fully charged, we can use it to replace the unit under our ‘Gate and charge that empty one. I’ll want to see your finished paper before you publish, McKay. It’ll be an honor to leave comments for the Peer Review Board.”
Rodney smiled in relief, knowing he could claim credit for all of his work on this project. Certainly he would share credit with Radek and Miko for all the work they contributed, but this was actually his true life’s work, and it was a success.
* * * *
Rodney was in his lab with Miko, Radek, and Sheppard debating what paper he should submit for a private lecture at the University of Colorado when Sgt. Michaels, General O’Neill’s administrative assistant, came in wearing a confused expression. “Dr. McKay?”
Rodney looked up. “Yes, can I help you?”
Michaels shook his head. “I’m not sure, Dr. McKay. A call came in from the main switchboard, and we’re not quite sure who to route it to. General O’Neill suggested I come to find you and check.”
Rodney frowned. “How the hell should I know who a phone call goes to, Michaels? Didn’t they ask for someone specific when they called?”
“Yes, Dr. McKay, they did. The caller asked for a Meredith McKay, and she said she was that person’s sister.”
Rodney felt the bottom drop out of his world. A phone call, from Jeannie. He was in shock.
Rodney didn’t register being moved to his desk chair until Sheppard was squatting in front of him, telling him to calm down and breathe. So he took a deep breath, and then another. When he opened his eyes (and when did he close them?), Sheppard was looking at him in concern.
“Are you okay there, buddy?”
Rodney took another breath. “Yeah, I think so.” He focused on Sgt, Michaels, who was still hovering in the doorway. “Is Jeannie still on the phone?”
Michaels shook his head, clearly concerned that he might have broken McKay. “No, sir. She was asked to call back in an hour, so that we could make sure you were actually who she wanted.”
“And probably so O’Neill could look her up to see if she was some sort of crank, right?” Rodney asked. “Well, I do have a sister, though I haven’t spoken to her in quite some time. And my legal name is now M. Rodney McKay, but I was given the name Meredith, after one of my mother’s relatives, so she’s probably not a crank.” Rodney took another breath and looked around the office at his concerned friends. “Well, something bad has probably happened, right? Otherwise why would she call out of the blue after all this time? So I should take that call when it comes in.”
Sheppard regained his feet and helped Rodney to stand. “Well, before that happens, we’re going to at least get a small snack into you, because you’ve obviously had a shock. And I’m coming with you when you take that call. No arguments, McKay; you need a friend with you right now, so I’m volunteering.”
Rodney nodded shakily. “Yeah, okay, no arguments. I think I need chocolate right now. Isn’t that what they say helps with blood sugar?”
“I think that’s orange juice,” interjected Radek, “but that would be bad idea for you, so chocolate works in this case.”
“Yeah, okay,” said Sheppard as he led the way out of the lab, “I think there’s cake today, so maybe at least chocolate frosting.”
It was a troubled group that made its way into the mess hall. Sheppard was eyeing Rodney like he thought he’d explode from stress. Radek and Miko were completely confused because they were unaware that Rodney even had a sister. And Rodney? Rodney was imagining all sorts of horrible things that had to have happened in order for his sister to have called him.
He’d like to think that he would have been informed if one of his parents had died, but he just wasn’t sure anymore. While Rodney couldn’t really remember the last time he’d spoken to his father, his mother had called him shortly before he solved the original ‘Gate issue, but that was a year ago. As for Jeannie, well…it had been a very long time since Rodney had had any contact with her.
So why was she calling? Rodney’s heart sank. Really it could only mean….
“Here, McKay,” Sheppard said as he placed the tray of food in front of him. “They had chocolate cake with vanilla frosting, and I got you some yogurt and fruit to go with. Miko is berating the staff into making fresh coffee, so that’ll be here soon.”
Rodney’s gaze cleared as he focused on his friend. “Thank you, Sheppard. I don’t know why I’m falling apart all of a sudden.”
Sheppard snorted indelicately. “Oh, I might have an idea. I do remember when we compared crappy family history, you know, and you only briefly mentioned a sister. I’d freak out too, if my brother called me at work for no good reason.”
“But, you, uh, actually talk to your brother?”
Sheppard shrugged as he dug into his cake. “Yeah, he calls around the holidays, you know, and we exchange birthday cards and stuff. I mean, he tries now, which is better than my father. I haven’t talked to him in ages.”
Rodney hummed around a mouthful of cake before swallowing. “Do you ever think about him, really?”
“Sometimes. I reach for the phone after a hard mission, but then I think—will he want to hear from me? So I don’t bother. I mean, I’ve been on freaking television, so I know he knows what I do—sort of. And David keeps me informed of the important stuff.”
Rodney stared at his plate for a long time before taking another bite. He finished the cake, and then drank the coffee that Miko placed in front of him, but he didn’t really taste anything. When his plate was empty, Rodney pushed away from the table. “I supposed I should head up now, yeah?”
Radek nodded sadly. “I do not know what to do for you, so I will coddle kitty while we wait.”
Rodney offered a half-smile. “Thanks, Radek. I’m sure it’s nothing, though. I mean, my mother would have called, I’m sure, if there was anything really bad. Maybe she just heard about the Nobel committee and wants to congratulate me.”
It was wishful thinking, and Rodney was sure they all knew it.
Rodney thought he was mentally prepared to hear his sister’s voice, but he really wasn’t.
“Meredith, is that you?”
“Yeah, Jeannie, it’s me. What can I do for you?” Why, he wanted to ask, are you calling after all these years.
“I need to talk to you, and I can’t really do it over the phone. Can we please meet?”
Rodney frowned into the phone. “Um, sure. Did you have somewhere in mind. Only, you know, I’m in Colorado now, so we might have to plan ahead or something.”
“Don’t be stupid, Meredith! I wouldn’t have called if I wasn’t near you! I’m in Denver, at the Marriott near the University Hospital. When can you get here?”
“Uh, wow, I didn’t realize you were local all of a sudden,” Rodney stammered, looking at Sheppard for support. “I can, um, be there…tomorrow morning? Is that soon enough?”
“Fine. I’ll see you at seven. Good-bye Meredith.”
“Good-bye…Jeannie?” But she had already disconnected the call. Rodney placed the handset back in its cradle and stared at the phone.
“What did she want, Rodney?” Sheppard asked softly.
Rodney shook his head. “I don’t know. She wouldn’t say over the phone, but she’s expecting me in Denver tomorrow morning at seven.”
Sheppard gave a low whistle. “That’s pretty early. Do you want to let Radek keep Simon so we can leave after my shift is over?”
Rodney stared at Sheppard with no small amount of horror. “Wait—what? You want to go with me?”
Sheppard rolled his eyes. “Yeah, of course I do. Look, Rodney, there is obviously something going down with your family, and you are not close to your family, so…I’m volunteering to stick beside you. As moral support, or as a friend, or, hey, maybe as a part of the family you’ve created for yourself? Do you really want to go alone?”
Rodney shook his head. “No, not really. I don’t even drive, so I’d have to take a taxi the whole way.”
“Right, so it’s settled. You ask Radek to keep Simon for a while, and I’ll drop you at your place so you can pack an overnight bag, and we’ll head right out.”
“But don’t you need to pack, too?”
Sheppard just gave him a blank look. “Rodney, I’ve always got a go-bag in my jeep, just in case I have to head out for a PR occasion. You go and let Radek know what’s going on, and I’ll let O’Neill know we’ll be away for a while.”
Rodney nodded numbly and headed back toward the elevators. Sheppard watched him go with a frown on his face before he turned—and found O’Neill watching him from the door to his office.
“Is he going to be okay?” O’Neill asked seriously.
Sheppard tucked his hands into his pockets and hunched his shoulders. “I’m not really sure, sir. I don’t really know anything about his relationship with his family, but I know it’s complicated. McKay hasn’t confided in me very much.”
“No, no, I get it Sheppard, I really do. Take as much time as you need, and keep an eye on him.” O’Neill glanced toward the elevator bank briefly. “I didn’t really want him here, you know. Carter told me he was our best choice, and she was right, but I’d heard enough about him that I didn’t really want him in my mountain. But he’s special, I guess.”
“Yeah,” said Sheppard, “he is. I guess….”
“I said I understood, Sheppard,” said O’Neill firmly, “and I really do. Believe me.”
And Sheppard did believe him, because he’d seen the way O’Neill was with Dr. Jackson. It made him want, and when he wanted, he thought of McKay—of Rodney. Sheppard really did want to be Rodney’s family.
* * * *
The drive from Colorado Springs to Denver was spent in silence. Rodney was fretting, and John was trying to find the words to comfort him. Since nothing came to mind, he didn’t speak. The radio provided nothing but bad, depressing C/W songs or peppy, poppy new ‘music’, so they turned it off. John had thought ahead and made a hotel reservation—not at the Marriott, since the last thing he wanted to do was trap Rodney in the same hotel as his sister. Instead he chose the Hyatt, and that was where he headed.
The room was nice, John supposed. It was a double, so that John could be close to Rodney to offer support, but John doubted Rodney minded much. The mattresses were firm and the pillows supportive, and neither man really noticed.
John took a shower before bed, because he felt particularly grubby after the drive, but Rodney said he’d take his in the morning. The night passed quickly enough, but only because they both went to bed thinking about the following morning.
As he got dressed the next day, John asked, “Do you want me to stay close, or do you think you’ll need privacy? Because I can always find somewhere else to be.”
Rodney frowned around his toothbrush. “Aaah fink iddll bee….” Rodney spit and started again, “I think it’ll be alright, but thank you for thinking about me. I’ll just go and see what she wants, and everything should be okay. Let’s just get some breakfast before you drive me over to the Marriott, okay?”
“Yeah, buddy, okay.”
They ate at the hotel breakfast bar, which was filling if nothing else. Rodney tried to keep his spirits high, but it was difficult. He didn’t sleep particularly well, his mind filled with worst-case scenarios.
John let Rodney out at the guest drop-off in front of the Marriott, but he didn’t go far, figuring to stick around in case he was needed.
Rodney just offered a wan smile before getting out of the car and walking into the lobby to call his sister’s room. Jeannie answered dully, informing him that she would be right down, so Rodney settled into a chair to wait.
He didn’t have to wait long before a blonde woman approached him. He barely recognized her, but that was only because of the dark circles under her eyes, and he stood to greet her.
“Jeannie, gosh, you look…rough,” Rodney said awkwardly. “Is everything alright?”
“No, Meredith,” Jeannie snapped, “everything is not alright. I wouldn’t have called you if everything was alright.” Her breath hitched and a tear came to her eye, but she brushed it away. “Madison has…has…leukemia.”
“Oh, god,” Rodney whispered, and he reached out to Jeannie, but she backed away and he let his arm drop. “Why did you call me?” he asked dully, “and why are you in Colorado? Aren’t there doctors in Canada anymore?”
“If you must know, Caleb took a teaching position at the University of Colorado some time ago, so we moved here. Madison is in treatment at the University Hospital, and her doctor says her best chance is a bone marrow transplant from a familial donor.”
Rodney’s spirits dropped. “I see. Did you try to contact her…her father? You do have his name, right?”
Jeannie frowned at him. “Yes, Meredith. His name is Mark Humphries, and he’s a major in the United States Marines, stationed at Quantico, Virginia, and he wants absolutely nothing to do with Madison.”
Rodney huffed irritably. “Of course he doesn’t. I told you that back when she was born. But he doesn’t need to have anything to do with her to donate marrow; he just needs to be a decent human being.”
Jeannie wrung her hands together. “Yes, well, he got tested, but he’s not an ideal match, and he told Caleb not to contact him again because his wife doesn’t know about Madison. So, are you going to help?”
Rodney wilted under her glare. “Yes, Jeannie, I’ll help—if I can. But I want to see her.”
“Meredith, I don’t think….”
“I want to see her, Jeannie! She’s my…she’s the only child I’m likely to have, and I want to see her.”
Jeanie crossed her arms across her chest and frowned at him. “Fine! You’ll need to be in the same hospital for the surgery anyway, so you can look in on her after you get tested.”
Rodney opened his mouth, but closed it in the face of his sister’s mulish expression.
Finally he said, “I’ll need a recent blood sample from her so that I can have it tested at the medical facility of my own choosing. I’ll submit to testing as well, in that facility, and then we’ll move forward. If you want my help, Jeannie, this is the way we’re going to do it.”
And he turned and walked out of the lobby without looking back.
Chapter Four: A Secret Revealed
Rodney found Sheppard sitting in his car in the parking lot, reading a Denver newspaper. He opened the passenger-side door and climbed into the seat and just…crumbled. He didn’t cry, but he really wanted to. Long ago, he’d have done anything to be a part of Madison’s life, but not like this.
Never like this.
He knew Sheppard was watching him, no matter the appearance of being very involved in the Sports pages, so he cleared his throat and said, “I’d like if you could drive me to the hospital, please.”
Sheppard calmly refolded the newspaper and tossed it into the back seat. “Sure, buddy. Anything you want.” He started the car and backed out of the parking lot carefully, and headed across the highway to the University Hospital complex. “What part of the hospital are we going to? Because there’s a lot of buildings here.”
Rodney’s heart sank, because he never asked where, exactly, Madison was. He reached for his cell phone and called the hospital directory, asking for the location of Madison Miller, who might either be in Oncology or Children’s Hospital, and was quickly given directions, which he relayed to Sheppard.
“Is Madison Miller a relative of yours?” Sheppard asked casually.
Rodney shot him a nervous glance and replied, “Yes, she is.”
Nothing more was said on the subject.
Sheppard parked and quietly followed Rodney into the hospital building, into the elevator, and down a brightly-lit corridor, all the while keeping worried eyes on his friend. He stayed back when Rodney approached a tall, curly-haired man wearing thick glasses and a worried expression—although the expression cleared somewhat once he saw Rodney.
“Thank God you’re here!” the man exclaimed, and reached out to hug Rodney. John almost intervened because Rodney looked distinctly uncomfortable.
But Rodney just pulled gently away and nodded jerkily. “Of course I came, Caleb. Why would you think I wouldn’t?”
The man, Caleb, pulled off his glasses and wiped his eyes with a shaking hand. “I don’t know. Jeannie didn’t even want to call you, but if there’s a chance….”
Rodney’s expression hardened. “I see. So Jeannie would rather Madison die than ask for my help, is that it?”
Caleb looked up, clearly startled. “What? No, I’m sure that’s not right. It’s just that you’ve never been one to show any interest….”
Rodney snorted and he ran one hand through his hair, mussing it. “Right, I’m sure that’s what she told you. But did she ever mention that I sent gifts every month while the baby was growing? Or that I sent birthday and Christmas presents every year? That I sent cards with checks, so that you’d have help providing for her?” Rodney’s voice grew louder, but still had not progressed to yelling, and John moved closer to the duo.
“Did Jeannie tell you that I used to call every month, hoping for updates on how Madison was growing and learning? Did she tell you that all of my cards and gifts were always sent back to me, unopened, or that Jeannie herself told me, when Madison was only around five-years-old, that my presence was not wanted or needed, so I should just shove off and leave you all alone?”
Caleb paled dramatically. “No, Meredith, she didn’t tell me any of that.”
Rodney’s jaw jutted stubbornly. “Well, it’s true, Caleb. First she took my baby, then she pushed me out of her life for good. My own parents never shared any news regarding Madison for her entire life. I didn’t know what her favorite foods were, or if she had any allergies like I do. I didn’t know her favorite color or animal, so I bought teddy bears in multiple colors. And the only reason I’m here now is because Madison is sick—and if anyone else had been able to help, then Jeannie never would have called me!”
Rodney took a breath to calm down. “I want to see her, Caleb. Jeannie doesn’t want me to see her until after the surgery, but I need to see her now.”
Caleb shook his head slowly. “I’m sorry, Meredith, but she’s sleeping now. She needs all the rest she can get.”
“No, I get it, Caleb,” Rodney said hesitantly. “But can I at least look in on her? I haven’t seen her since she was born.”
Something in Rodney’s eyes must have spoken to him because Caleb softened slightly. “Yeah, sure, you can look in. We’re all just so….”
“Worried about her,” said Rodney. “Yeah, I can understand. And I’m sorry for snapping. It’s just—my heart is in that room.”
Caleb rested a hand on Rodney’s shoulder. “I completely understand.”
John watched, helpless and confused, as Rodney pushed the door ajar and leaned in slightly. He couldn’t see into the hospital room, but he could hear the beeps of monitors within. And he could hear Rodney sigh, “She’s so beautiful” as he looked at the room’s occupant.
“I’ve never said to Jeannie,” said Caleb softly, “but I think she has your eyes. Jeannie’s are just as blue, but the shape is different.”
“Why does she resent me so much?” Rodney asked nobody in particular. “Why would she let things get this bad?”
Caleb pulled a reluctant Rodney back into the corridor and pulled the door shut. “I didn’t know, Meredith, you have to understand that. I was told that you had a very specific life plan and that you were busy getting ready for that. Then, as Madison grew up, you were never mentioned, not even by your parents, and I was told that you were busy and had no time for family. I looked you up a few times, to see what you were up to. You’ve done a lot of remarkable things that you should be very proud of.”
Rodney looked at the other man, heartbroken. “The best thing I ever did was also the worst thing I ever did, Caleb, and the proof of that is in that hospital room. I need a recent blood sample from Madison, so I can get it tested by doctors of my choosing. I’ve already told Jeannie, so she’s aware that if you want my help then it’ll have to be that way. Once I’ve been confirmed as a good donor, then we’ll plan the surgery. We can do that here, if that’s your wish.”
Caleb nodded. “Yeah, of course. Let me get a doctor to get that sample for you. I’m sure they’ll have a way for you to transport it. And I really would appreciate having the transplant done here because we live fairly close.”
Rodney looked at him, startled. “Um, Caleb, you do know I’m local, right? Didn’t Jeannie tell you that she called my place of employment in Colorado Springs? I think I’m more local to this hospital than you are.”
Caleb blinked. “No, she didn’t tell me that. The last I heard, you were living in California. That’s what your mother said, anyway.”
“Yes,” Rodney drawled slowly. “I was living in California, until about a year ago.” He shook his head in disbelief. “Let’s just find that doctor, okay, and then we can move forward as necessary.”
Caleb nodded once and turned to walk down to the nurses’ station at the end of the corridor, and Sheppard finally moved closer to Rodney, gently placing a hand on his shoulder. “You okay, buddy?”
Rodney looked at him with anguish in his eyes. “Nothing about this is okay, Sheppard. Look, I’ll tell you what I can on the trip back to the mountain, but right now I’d just like to process all of this.”
Rodney shot him a confused look. “What?”
“John,” he said with a half-smile. “My name is John. I figured you could call me that, since we’re friends and all.”
Rodney slumped against the wall and ran a hand over his face. “Right. John. I knew that, I did. But we were work friends, like Bates and Lorne, and I was trying to be professional.”
John ducked down again, to catch Rodney’s eyes. “We’re friends, Rodney. Not just ‘work friends’, and I’m pretty sure Radek and Miko feel the same way.”
Rodney swallowed. “You think they feel the same way about me?” he asked hesitantly.
John bit his lip briefly. “Well, no, I’m sure they don’t feel the exact same way about you, but they’re friends and they like you.” John leaned forward slightly and pressed his lips briefly and firmly against Rodney’s. “Okay?” he asked.
“Okay,” Rodney replied in a whisper.
John shifted to the side and leaned against the wall beside Rodney and reached out to tangle three of his fingers with Rodney’s, and they waited until Caleb came back with the doctor in tow.
Caleb looked at the two of them strangely but introduced the doctor, who quickly agreed to give Rodney what he needed once he discovered that Rodney worked with the SGC. After that, it was only a matter of moments before a vial of blood was drawn from the drowsy girl in the room, and a copy of her medical records was made for Rodney to take back to the mountain with him. While they waited, Rodney took the time to call the SGC and ask for Dr. Fraser, informing her of an incoming blood sample and promising details when he arrived.
Rodney said good-bye to Caleb without ever introducing him to John, and John figured there was a very good reason for that.
John figured the drive back to Colorado Springs would not be as silent, so he vowed to keep a shut mouth and an open mind.
* * * *
“I was all of nineteen years old when I got my first boyfriend,” said Rodney as they approached the highway. “It wasn’t that I was a shy kid; it was that I was socially inept. I started college at age eleven, and by the time I was sixteen, I was living very far from home and working on my graduate degrees. My faculty advisor suggested that I could tutor other students as a way of socializing.”
“That makes sense,” said John calmly. “You’re a natural teacher, from what I can tell.”
“Thanks,” said Rodney ruefully. “If only I could re-teach the idiocy out of some of the geeks in the mountain….but that’s not the point. The point is—I met this guy, Mark, from another college. At first, he was just another tutoring assignment, but then we started having coffee dates or hanging around in the city off campus. It was very easy, you see. He never pressured me or treated me like a ‘project’.
“But he was the first person to be romantically interested in me ever. And we dated for almost a year before we had sex.” Rodney ran both his hands over his face and he sighed. “And…there’s something else you should probably know about me.”
John reached over and patted Rodney’s knee gently. “Whatever it is, Rodney, it won’t make a difference in how I treat you or how I feel about you.”
Rodney shot him a glare. “You don’t know that, John! You can’t say something like that without knowing all the facts.”
John snagged one of Rodney’s hands and held it briefly before returning his own hand to the steering wheel. “Okay, I promise that I’ll try not to think of you differently. Is that better?”
Rodney exhaled sharply. “Yes. Okay, so, when I was around thirteen years old, I got really sick. I was living with a conservator at the time because my father had sent me off to go to college, and Mr. Johanneson was basically my temporary guardian, and he took me to the hospital. I had a really high fever that just would not break, and they did all sorts of tests to figure out what I had.”
“And…” John prompted.
“That slight expression of the ATA gene that I have is not my only genetic quirk. I also have the Carrier gene.”
John frowned slightly. “I’ve read about that somewhere, but I don’t remember where.”
“It, uh, it’s a genetic anomaly that affects maybe less than one percent of males who have a lineage from a specific geographic area.” Rodney slipped easily into lecture mode. “It enables the males to carry and birth live children, although they mostly have to have Caesarian deliveries.”
John struggled to not react. “So Madison is…?”
“My daughter.” Rodney laughed mirthlessly. “I had sex exactly one time, and I actually forgot that using a condom might be a good thing. Everyone around me completely freaked out, and I was just…numb. I told Mark, of course, but he reacted like a stereotypical jock from any Young Adult movie about teen pregnancy. He had plans, you see, and it was hardly his fault that my freakishness made me pregnant.”
“Wow,” John exclaimed, “what a bastard!”
Rodney sighed. “Yeah, so. Anyway, I was alone in Chicago, and somehow my father was still banking on my being an incredible prodigy, and he’d convinced his employers that he could bring me along to work for them if they just kept their faith in him. Riding my coat-tails before I even had them, so to speak. I tried to hide the pregnancy, but those things always become evident, you know, and my father lost his shit. It seems that my sister, Jeannie, had suffered a bad miscarriage and could no longer carry a baby to term, so it was unreasonably unfair for me to be pregnant and academically brilliant at the same time.
“He laid out this guilt trip, and I really wanted his love and approval at that time, you know. I was very close to my first Doctorate, and there was a lot of stress. He told me that the best thing I could do was sign over parental rights to Jeannie and her husband, Caleb, because they could give the baby a good life. Like I couldn’t, because I was just a scholar or something. My mother tried to soften the ‘request’ by saying that I would still be in the baby’s life as a close uncle, and I could see it when I wanted.”
“You didn’t know you were having a girl?”
Rodney shook his head. “Not at that point. I went to the doctor appointments on time and kept my body healthy, but I was really pushing that dissertation and trying to keep my head together. Because Mark was on a different campus, I at least didn’t have to see him all the time, but it was still a difficult time for me. All the stress of defending my dissertation caused me to go into labor early, and I was rushed to the hospital just days before my scheduled defense.”
John reached out to hold Rodney’s hand again. “Wow, Rodney! I can’t imagine what you must have been going through!”
Rodney squeezed his fingers gratefully. “At first, I was numb. Then they placed this tiny baby in my arms, and I got to see her for the first time, and I just fell in love. The world just stopped for me as I looked in her eyes. And then Jeannie came in, the sister that I only wanted to like me, and told me that I couldn’t keep her because I promised. I’d signed a lot of papers when I went into the hospital, and my father had made sure the custody papers were mixed in, so I’d already signed her away before I even got to see her. Jeannie was so fixated on the baby that she never saw me, but I don’t think she ever saw me anyway.”
“I didn’t mean to eavesdrop in the hospital back there, but I did hear part of what you told Caleb.”
Rodney nodded. “Yeah, that dam broke pretty hard, didn’t it? I sent gifts and cards and letters every year; sometimes every month. Jeannie had them all returned, unopened. After five years, I stopped sending them, but I never stopped buying them. I rented a storage locker for it all. It’s not just cards and letters, either; I had Miriam help me shop for thoughtful ‘girl’ gifts for birthdays and Christmas. Not a lot of pink, and no make-up at all, but girly stuff that I imagined she might like.
“After it became clear that Jeannie had basically forbid my own mother from discussing the child with me—I only learned her name by accident during one of our infrequent phone conversations—I decided to start putting together an education fund for her. My mother’s grandfather did it for me, and it helped me ultimately get out from under my father’s control, so I figured I’d do it for my child. Jeannie didn’t want to allow me to love her, but I still do. I only had her for an hour fifteen years ago, but she’s been in my heart forever, and if I can give her any advantage in life at all, then I will.”
John cleared his throat softly. “It sounds to me like you gave her every advantage, and that you’re planning to give more?”
Rodney turned his head to look out the window. “Jeannie told me that Madison has Leukemia, and that a familial bone-marrow transplant is the best option for treatment. Jeannie is not a close enough match, and Caleb is right out.” Rodney exhaled sharply. “They even hunted down Mark and asked him, before calling me.”
John scowled but kept his voice even. “Is that why you wanted her medical records and a blood sample?”
Rodney turned back to watch John as he drove. “I need a doctor that I trust to tell me the real truth of the diagnosis. I know Dr. Fraser will be completely honest, and she’ll confer with the oncologist that is working with Madison for the best results. I also need to know if I possibly passed the ATA gene onto Madison. I don’t know for sure if anyone else in my family has it.”
John frowned. “I don’t know if anyone else in my family does, either. Maybe I should check on that, huh?”
“No,” Rodney said after a moment. “That could cause a lot of difficult situations. If Homeworld wanted to expose the ATA gene, we should let them do it. I’m only doing this because I’m her parent and it’s my actual right to know. Hell, I don’t even know if Madison is aware that she’s adopted. Given Jeannie’s attitude, I doubt she’s told her, but I don’t know if my mother might have said anything.”
Rodney wiped his free hand over his eyes and groaned. “And there’s another phone call that I have to make.”
“Rodney?” John prodded after a few minutes of silence.
“I think your family is probably worse than mine.”
John smiled to himself when Rodney began to laugh softly.
* * * *
“Okay, Dr. McKay, I’ve been on the phone all morning with Dr. Silbert in the Oncology Department of University Hospital in Denver, and I have to agree with his assessment.”
Rodney nodded along as he sat in Dr. Janet Fraser’s office. “Yes, I’d figured Jeannie would have only approached me if the situation was dire. What about the other blood test?”
Fraser offered a shrewd look. “There is no presence of the ATA gene, even as weak as your own, indicated. Other genetic markers are very clear, so she is your child.”
“Of course she’s my child, Dr. Fraser!” Rodney snapped. “I wouldn’t be in this situation otherwise.”
Fraser folded her hands together on top of her desk. “Yes, well, I also took a very specific liberty and requested a blood sample from a certain Major Mark Humphries at Quantico. Relax, Dr. McKay,” she said when Rodney opened his mouth to object, “I made it a broad-spectrum request because of transfer requests, so he won’t even know why I asked for it.”
Rodney frowned. “He requested to transfer to the SGC?”
Fraser inclined her head slightly. “He did, as did several other Marines in his unit. They’re a Search and Rescue unit, so they’re highly sought-after. I did, however, make specific note that Major Humphries would not be a good fit here in Cheyenne Mountain, and while General O’Neill might have more questions about that, I’ll leave it to you to explain the details. The point is, Dr. McKay, that Major Humphries actually could be a viable donor for the bone marrow. His match was almost as good as yours.”
Rodney snorted and crossed his arms over his chest. “Yes, well, I don’t doubt that. I looked him up when we got back here, and he’s got a good service record. He’s also got a very pretty wife and two lovely sons, aged twelve and nine. I have no doubts that he refused to be a donor because he didn’t want his family to know that he had another child, an older child that was born to a male Carrier. It doesn’t matter, Dr. Fraser, because I’m doing it. I need to do this.”
Dr. Fraser offered a genial smile. “Of course you do, Rodney. And nobody will begrudge you that.”
Rodney stood and rubbed the back of his neck. “I suppose I should call Jeannie and find out when they want to do this. And then I’ll have to let people know that I’ll be out for a little while.”
“Yes, you’ll likely need to rest at least seven days after donation. All the hard waiting will be on the recipient side.”
Rodney came across John waiting for him just outside the elevator bank when he left the infirmary, and he offered a grateful smile.
“So,” John asked, “how did it go?”
Rodney lifted a shoulder negligently. “It went like I thought it would. Madison has no expression of the ATA gene, but that could change after the transplant. Dr. Fraser also looked into the paternal option, because that asshole is a Marine that was hoping to transfer to the SGC. As it turns out, he could have been a donor—he just didn’t want to.”
John whistled sharply. “You’re right, he is an asshole. I really hope he’s not going to transfer in.”
Rodney shook his head as he pushed the call button for the elevator. “Janet made a note that he’d be a bad fit around here, but I’m headed to see O’Neill about the operation, so I’ll give full disclosure on that front. I think he’ll understand.”
* * * *
Jack O’Neill stared at his star scientist from behind his desk with an open mouth. Finally he said, “I don’t understand.”
Rodney raised one eyebrow. “What about that did you not understand?”
O’Neill coughed into his fist and sat back in his fancy leather chair. “Okay, I get why you’ll need at least a week out of work to recover from the surgery, and I totally understand that this is a family issue and that it’s really nobody’s business, but I don’t understand why you were nervous talking about it.”
Rodney sighed. “Carriers aren’t all that common. They never were, actually. And when I found out about it, I was pretty young. I kept the diagnosis from my family against the wishes of my conservator, and it was never an issue until I got unexpectedly pregnant and my mother looked devastated and my father told me I should keep it under wraps before anyone found out about my ‘freakishness’”.
O’Neill’s mouth twisted. “No offence, McKay, but your entire family if full of assholes. I really hope your daughter is better than that.”
“I really wouldn’t know, General. I’ve not had a chance to get to know her.”
“Right,” O’Neill sighed. “Okay, well, you should know that we don’t discriminate around here, but there is a lot of gossiping going on. If it gets out about your genetic condition and anyone gives you a hard time, let me or Sheppard or Carter know and it’ll be dealt with. I’m not real fond of harassment in my mountain.”
Rodney nodded and swallowed nervously. “There is another small issue, regarding Madison’s birth-father.”
O’Neill’s eyebrows rose. “Oh, really?”
“Yes. He’s in the Marines—a Major in an S&R unit out of Quantico, and he’s been seeking a transfer to the SGC with several members of his unit.”
“Oh, hell no!” O’Neill exclaimed. “I can get my pick of soldiers in this place, so I don’t have to take in any scumbag that won’t acknowledge his own kid!”
Rodney sagged in relief. “I was really hoping you’d say that, but I knew experienced Search and Rescue personnel are needed here now.”
“Not so badly that I won’t personally interview each and every interested party. Doing that job means you need a strong character and a good home life, and having that kind of secret can come back to haunt someone badly.”
Rodney stood to excuse himself. “Right, well, thanks again, General. I need to make some phone calls, so I’ll be going now.”
“Oh, and McKay? Try to spread the love a little when it comes to that cat of yours, please? Some of the soldiers are complaining that they never get invited to visit.”
Rodney blushed. “I, um, I have a hard time being around soldiers, General. Ever since my relationship with Mark Humphries in college, that kind of personality just doesn’t sit well with me.”
O’Neill frowned. “Was he your only relationship, McKay?”
Rodney nodded. “Yes, yes he was. I wasn’t interested in getting close to people after Madison was taken from me. It was too much bother to get to know people, and I had a hole in my heart that couldn’t be filled.”
O’Neill’s eyes darkened with sadness. “I understand that all too well, McKay, I really do. Just—try not to paint everyone here with Humphries’ brush, okay? We have a few assholes around, but mostly we’re good people trying to do a good thing here.”
“I’ll try, sir, I promise.”
* * * *
“Meredith, what a pleasant surprise!”
Rodney tried not to cringe when his mother answered the phone, really he did. Surely she wasn’t that surprised that he would call, especially as Jeannie had to have called to tell her the news about the transplant.
“Mother. How are you and Father doing?” he asked genially.
“Why, we’re both fine, Meredith. And how are you? Busy with your new job, I suppose?”
Rodney sighed. Why did this have to be difficult? “Well,” he said eventually, “I supposed I am busy, what with getting ready to provide bone marrow for my sick daughter! And why didn’t you tell me that Jeannie and Caleb had moved to Colorado? Or that Madison was ill? Didn’t you think I had a right to know?”
Silence, and then, “No, Meredith, I didn’t think you had a right to know, not after making sure that you had no contact with the girl at all after she was born. I figured if you actually cared, then you would have tried a little bit.”
“You figured that I should try a little? Are you serious? No, don’t answer that; obviously Jeannie has this whole family snowed with her little jealousy. That’s fine, you know. They’ve made contact now, now that they need me for something. You can all keep your secrets because I know the truth, and I’ll share it if I’m asked. I had just hoped that you wanted better for me, but I know better now.”
“Meredith,” she said anxiously, “what do you mean that you’ll share the truth?”
“Mother, does Madison even know that she’s adopted? Did Jeannie even tell her that much?”
“Meredith, you know that’s a difficult subject for your sister….”
“What I know, Mother,” Rodney said irritably, “is that Jeannie can’t have children for a very tragic reason, so she jumped at the chance to grab mine when Father forced me to give her up. What I further know is that Jeannie managed to convince everyone that mattered, and probably a few people that don’t, that I ceased all contact after the adoption was finished, which is so far from the truth they aren’t even in the same hemisphere. And now I’m learning that she hasn’t even told Madison that she was adopted! If I wasn’t so assured that Madison is doing somewhat well in that home, I’d sue to gain custody myself!”
“Now, Meredith, don’t do anything rash!” his mother yelled. “You don’t know for sure what’s been going on with your sister!”
“And whose fault is that?” Rodney asked mulishly. “It’s not as if I never tried to get close to her! Look, I need to go, Mother. I have to rearrange an experiment schedule and make arrangements for Simon for while I’m in the hospital. And don’t you dare say anything to Jeannie about this conversation, because I’m almost positive that she was ready to let Madison go untreated rather than call me for help.”
“You’re not serious!”
“Oh, I really, really am, Mother. She’ll probably try to keep me out of the hospital during the whole procedure as it is. I get that she’s stressed about this, but I’m not the bad guy here, and I never was.”
Rodney disconnected the call and sat quietly, staring at the whiteboard in front of him and petting his cat. So many questions were whirling through his brain, but they all boiled down to one: What, exactly, had he done as a child to make his sister hate him so?
Rodney shook the thought from his head and lifted Simon up to his face. “I hate to leave you again, even if everyone has been so good to care for you.”
The cat meowed and swiped at Rodney’s nose with a clawless paw.
Rodney turned to see Radek Zelenka standing in his doorway, Miko Kusanagi hovering behind him. “Hey, guys, come on in!”
Radek and Miko entered the lab and closed the door behind them. “Rodney, I wanted to say is great thing that you do, this operation.”
Rodney frowned into the coffee mug that Miko placed in front of him. “I’m having a lot of mixed feelings, but none are about helping Madison.”
“Do you have a photograph of her?” Miko asked tentatively.
Rodney shook his head. “No, I do not. Hell, I didn’t even know she lived in Boulder until Jeannie called the other day.”
“Perhaps you can have a photo taken of both of you in your surgical garb?”
Rodney looked up to see nothing but sincerity on their faces. “I doubt that would happen, Miko, but it’s a nice thought. By now, if she knows a ‘relative’ is going to help her, she’s probably been told that I’m a raving lunatic that happens to have the right genetic markers. I just don’t understand Jeannie’s motivations at all.”
Radek coughed gently. “I never tell people this, but my father is actually my mother. He had Carrier gene as well.”
Rodney’s brow wrinkled in confusion. “You have younger siblings, don’t you?”
Radek inclined his head. “I do, yes. A brother and sister, four and six years younger than I. My mother carried them.”
“So your father was in a previous relationship?”
Radek shook his head. “No. Times were very different in my country at the time before my birth. There was much strife, yes? My father was beaten and sexually assaulted by a group of soldiers because he would not volunteer for military service. He could not, you see, because of bad eyesight and bone density problems. During the beating, both of his arms were broken because they were brittle. My mother was nurse that cared for my father after he was found.”
Miko’s eyes were wide. “Oh goodness! Do you know what happened to the soldiers?”
Radek shrugged. “I think, if they had attacked woman, they might have been let go. But to be found raping a man was a horrible thing, and the reports said they were punished most harshly. Nobody is sure which rapist was my sperm donor.”
“Good!” Rodney said ferociously. “Any rapist should be strung up by their testicles!”
Miko shot him a soft look. “You were not raped, were you?”
Rodney shook his head. “No, I was just in a relationship with a total asshole, and managed to get pregnant the first time I ever had sex.”
Miko scowled unhappily. “Assholes should also be strung up!”
Rodney saluted her with his coffee mug. “Hear, hear!”
Chapter Five: Are You My Mother?
It seemed like an eternity rather than only four days since Rodney was last there, but he sat in the passenger seat of John’s car and stared at the hospital balefully. The surgery was scheduled for ten o’clock the following morning, so Rodney was checking in that afternoon for monitoring.
A hand fell gently on his shoulder and John said, “It’s going to be fine, Rodney. I’ll be here right after your procedure, and I’ll keep you company for as long as you want me to.”
Rodney nodded absently. “Will you come after dinner this evening?”
“Of course I will, Rodney. I’ll have to check visitors’ hours, but I’ll be here until they kick me out, if you want.”
Rodney was grateful for John’s presence for many reasons, but mostly because he was a bolster against the onslaught that would be Rodney’s estranged family. John had admitted to wanting to date Rodney, which was nice, and he had a very strong personality and likely would not allow Jeannie to plow over him.
For purposes of expedience, Rodney made John his medical proxy, which would allow John to be there as an emergency contact should something horrible happen, not that that was likely. Rodney’s part in the bone marrow transplant was easy—he just had to donate material. Madison would be doing all the hard work. Still, John would have unfettered access to Rodney while he was in the hospital, and Rodney had a feeling he’d be glad of the company.
“Well,” Rodney said, opening the door, “I’d better get checked in so they can poke at me.”
John hurriedly jumped out of the car and grabbed Rodney’s bag from the back seat. “Hold on there, Rodney. I’m going in with you!”
Rodney frowned at him. “You really don’t have to, you know.”
John nodded in the direction of the automatic doors and said, “I think I do.”
Rodney turned and saw Jeannie standing just beyond the doors beside a young blonde girl in a wheelchair. Rodney felt his heart skip a beat and he tried to relax as John took hold of his elbow and began to escort him toward the hospital.
The girl, Madison, looked rather curious, but Jeannie’s eyes were hard and angry. Rodney bit back a sigh as the doors opened, because wasn’t this situation hard enough?
“So glad you’re on time, Meredith,” Jeannie said snidely.
Before Rodney could respond, Madison reached back and put her hand over Jeannie’s and said, “Mom, can you go find Dad for me? I’ll be okay here, I think.”
Jeannie shot Rodney another hard look before bending to kiss Madison’s cheek. “We’ll be right back.”
Madison nodded silently before turning her limpid gaze to Rodney. Once Jeannie was well away, Madison put her hands to the wheels of the chair and pushed away from the door, IV bag rattling against the attached pole. “I wasn’t sure you’d actually come,” she said finally, when they were in the tidy lobby.
Rodney gaped at her for a moment before he asked, “Why would you think that?”
Madison shrugged. “I heard you, the other day. When you were yelling at my dad outside my room.”
Rodney flinched. “I think maybe the entire ward might have heard me that day. I’m sorry if I upset you, but I was a little…upset.”
Madison’s eyes narrowed at him, and John gasped beside him. Rodney understood immediately John’s reaction, because those eyes were the same that Rodney saw in the mirror every day.
“You were more than upset, and Mom won’t tell me anything.”
Rodney bit his lip before asking, “Did your parents tell you that you were adopted?”
Madison frowned. “Yeah, but not until I was completely diagnosed, which was two years ago. I think I could have handled it, you know? I’m not a stupid kid.”
“No, I don’t suppose you could be.” Rodney sighed. “Look, I know we’ll be in adjacent rooms upstairs. I have to check in so I can get poked and prodded and dressed in embarrassing hospital jammies, but I’ll make my way to you for a long, truthful, talk after, okay?”
Madison looked over her shoulder to see her parents walking toward her, so she nodded and said, “I’d really like that. And if they give you green jello, you can bring it to me, too.”
Rodney frowned. “They wouldn’t dare give me the green stuff, and I don’t share the blue.”
John snorted and muttered, “Ain’t that the truth” before dragging Rodney to the reception desk, leaving Madison to deal with Caleb and Jeannie.
“It was nice of her to greet you at the door.”
Rodney gave him the side-eye. “Yes, I suppose it was, but I bet that was all Caleb’s doing. Jeannie would probably rather I never even laid eyes on her.”
John nudged Rodney’s shoulder with his own. “Just try not to stress, okay. A calm demeanor will affect your own healing process, you know. And I’ll be here as often as they’ll let me.”
Rodney offered John a grateful smile and gave his name to the receptionist, trying hard to put Jeannie’s attitude out of his mind.
* * * *
The poking and prodding were not as bad as he’d thought, but the horrid hospital pajamas were worse. And John just laughed at him.
“You know why you have to wear them, Rodney, so grumbling isn’t going to change anything.”
Rodney plucked at the material over his chest once more before sitting on the edge of the railed bed. “At least they have a back,” he muttered. “I’d hate to have my ass hanging out the whole time I’m in here.”
John laughed again, that donkey-bray that Rodney was becoming quite fond of. “Maybe after the procedure, you’ll be allowed to put on your own stuff. And you can wear your own robe, so there is that.”
Rodney looked longingly at his suitcase, which contained a very comfortable pair of soft, flannel pajamas and his very worn cotton robe. “Yeah, there is that. I’d better put that on if I’m going next door to talk to Madison.”
“You’re not going anywhere, Mr. McKay,” said the bubbly nurse entering the room. “Not until I take your vitals and insert this IV, anyway!”
Rodney looked up, bemused. “Has anyone ever told you that you need to work on your bedside manner? Because if they have, they need to have their heads examined.”
The nurse smiled brightly at him and popped a thermometer into his mouth. “How sweet of you to say! I’ve always felt that a sunny disposition helps people deal with the needles. So, let’s have your arm, and I’ll have you set up in a jiffy!”
Rodney grimaced and focused directly on John to take his mind off the needle puncturing his arm, but he barely felt a thing before it was all over. “Wow, you’re really good!”
The nurse bobbed her head at him. “I’ll let you in on a secret: in nursing school, we had to practiced on each other, so we either got very good at inserting IVs, or we had to suffer at the hands of our fellow students. It gives good perspective. Now, you have a slight fever, so I’m going to mention this to the doctor. It might affect the procedure.”
Rodney shook his head slightly as he tugged his sleeve back into place. “The fever is normal for this time of year, so it should have no bearing on the procedure. If you have any questions, you can contact my personal physician in Castle Rock.”
The nurse gathered her kit together and smiled again. “I’ll tell him, but he’ll probably want to examine you himself later.”
John winked at Rodney as she left and said, “Maybe we should employ that needle technique in the mountain—making the geeks test their attitudes on each other before they speak to the public.”
Rodney just shook his head. “It would never work, John. We all have thick skins and too much pride. Look at Kavanaugh if you don’t believe me.”
It was a running joke that, after being transferred to Area 51, Dr. Calvin Kavanaugh had tried to claim credit for many of McKay’s theories, and that he was almost publically forced to admit his fallacies after McKay had completed his energy project with no input from Kavanaugh at all. The shiny, fully-charged ZPM that supplied Area 51 with its power supply was a daily reminder to everyone working there that Kavanaugh was a blow-hard that tried to steal fame. His once-loyal big-time contacts had pulled back from him completely.
Rodney stood up and draped his robe over his shoulders and planted his behind in the wheelchair John had retrieved, making sure his IV pole was solidly connected. “Well, John, let’s head next door. I just saw the orderly carry Madison’s dinner tray out of her room.”
John nodded and stood up, positioning himself behind the wheelchair. “Do you want me to stick around, or should I go in search of coffee?”
“I…think I’d like you to stick around, please. If my luck holds, then Jeannie will show up at the worst possible moment, and I could use a buffer.”
John gently squeezed Rodney’s shoulder. “Okay, then that’s what I’ll do. Let’s go see Madison.”
Rodney tried to relax during the short trip, but he was very nervous at being alone with his daughter for the first time. At least, he hoped they’d be alone, but there was always a chance that Jeannie or Caleb would be in there with her.
But no—Madison was alone, sitting in her railed hospital bed and playing with her blanket. She looked up when Rodney knocked on the door, and smiled tentatively and waved them in. John pushed Rodney to her bedside and pulled the visitor’s chair from the corner of the room.
They all sat in silence, none of them looking at one another, before Rodney said, “You know, you can ask me anything. I think I’m obligated to tell you the truth no matter what.”
John snorted but said nothing, and Madison eyed Rodney shrewdly before asking, “Did you really get someone knocked-up in college and convince her to give me up?”
Rodney’s jaw dropped and he stared at her for a long moment. “Wow!” he finally said. “Is that what Jeannie told you?”
Madison shrugged and stared down at her lap. “She said, when I asked who you were to be able to help me, that you were her brother and that I was born when you were in college.”
“Right. Well, um, no, I did not impregnate some coed and force her to give you up.”
Madison looked up from under her bangs. “I don’t understand.”
“Um, have you learned about Carriers yet in school?”
Madison lifted her head fully and she grimaced. “I haven’t exactly been in school for a while, you know.”
Rodney bobbed his head nervously. “Right. I guess I knew that, maybe. Okay, so here’s some basic reproductive information for you, and I hope I don’t get into trouble for telling you this: I’m what is known as a ‘Carrier’. That means that I have a genetic anomaly that allows certain men, very rare men, to become pregnant and carry a child to term. So really, I was the one that got ‘knocked-up’ in college.”
Madison gaped at him. “Oh, wow! So did you not want me?”
Rodney sighed. “I think I wanted you more than anything in my life, Madison. But I was young and alone, and I let my family convince me that you would be better off with Jeannie and Caleb. They were married and had a good home, and I was still a student and living in a shared condo with a professor from my school. I was promised a place in your life, but that…didn’t work out so well.”
“I remember what you said to Dad the other day, about wanting to be an uncle to me but Mom didn’t want that. Does she not like you?”
Rodney rocked his head backwards and John reached out to rub his shoulder. “There is no real answer to that question, Madison. Sometimes I think my sister out-right hates me, and sometimes I think she’s just indifferent to me, like I don’t exist or matter to her.”
Madison bit her lip, thinking. “Did you really buy me birthday presents?”
Rodney laughed. “I did. Christmas presents, too, every year. And when they were sent back to me, I kept them all, and I never stopped buying presents. I’m sure you’ve probably out-grown all of them, or they probably aren’t to your taste, but I always think of you. Every day of my life.”
Madison blushed prettily and she ducked her head again. After a moment, she asked softly, “What was my other father like?”
Rodney sighed and reached out for John, who gamely held his hand in a gentle grip. Rodney rolled his head forward and sighed again. “Your father…I thought he was a great guy when we first started dating. He was my first boyfriend, and he always treated me with respect—like I really mattered to him. But when I found out I was pregnant, suddenly it was only my problem and he told me I should ‘deal with it’ and leave him out of things. He had plans, you see, and being with a freak was not part of them.”
“He hurt you pretty bad, huh?”
Rodney shook his head. “No, not really. He made me numb for a long time. Carriers can’t…it’s physiologically not ideal to have abortions, so right away I knew that I’d be having a baby alone. I certainly didn’t have family support, and I never really had. Madison, you have to understand something about me—I grew up very fast, because I had to. My parents didn’t really know what to do with me when I was young, and by the time I became interesting enough for them, I was used to being alone. When I found out I was pregnant, it was a kind of life-line for me. You were going to be my family. I knew it would be difficult, having a baby alone, but I was very willing to do it.
“And then my family, my birth family came back into my life to inform me that I owed them because of what they gave me, and the cost of that debt was you. They never said that specifically, of course, but by the time I realized that I could have my own life and have you as well, I had legally signed away my parental rights and Jeannie and Caleb had adopted you. It happened practically before you were born.”
Madison had tears in her eyes when she asked, “Did you ever try to get me back?”
“Honestly? No, I didn’t. I had decided that it would be healthier if I began my life with a clean break. I called my mother semi-regularly, because she always wanted to keep in touch, but that was all I allowed myself. Father had no use for me after I declined to fulfill his plans for me, and I had no idea that Jeannie would continue her radio silence toward me after promising that I would still be a part of your life after the adoption.”
“But you really wanted me?”
Rodney leaned forward and laid a gentle hand on Madison’s knee. “I wanted you from the first day. I never stopped thinking about you. I never stopped wanting you in my life. I also never expected to meet you quite like this, so I’m a little freaked out right now and I’m probably not saying any of this right.”
Madison sniffed and wiped her nose with the edge of the blanket. “I think you’re saying it right. You did say I could ask anything, right?”
“Yes I did.”
Madison glanced at John, who had been sitting quietly beside Rodney the whole time. “Is he your boyfriend?”
Rodney turned his head to study the dark-haired military man beside him. “I don’t know,” he said softly. “We’re kind of working that part out right now.”
John leaned forward and offered his hand in introduction. “I’m John Sheppard, and I work with Rodney. We’ve become good friends in the last year, and I consider him part of my chosen family. That makes you family, too.”
Madison’s answering smile was bright. “I’d like that, John Sheppard. It’s very good to meet you.”
* * * *
“Before I leave for the night, do you want to explain to me why your fever should not pose a problem for this procedure?”
Rodney looked up sharply from where he was draping his robe over the end of his bed. “Oh? Um, the fever spike happens during the Up-Cycle, when my body prepares the next, um, reproductive cycle.”
John’s eyebrows rose slightly. “Oh, so it’s really normal for you?”
Rodney sat on the edge of his bed and regarded his friend closely. “Yes,” he drawled after a moment, “the Up-Cycle is a normal part of life for all Carriers. We live our lives in two constant states, one of rest, and the other of preparation. My body temperature will either rise in a slight fever or lower in a below-normal chill, and the time of year doesn’t matter.”
John smirked. “Well, it certainly explains why you’re always carrying around that obnoxious orange fleece jacket, even in the warm months.”
Rodney huffed. “I’ll have you know, that fleece jacket has been a source of great comfort for me for many years.”
“Yeah, I bet. It does look a bit ragged.”
Rodney’s eyes narrowed. “Aren’t you leaving?”
John laughed and leaned in to kiss Rodney gently on the forehead. “I’ll see you in the morning, Rodney. Try to get some sleep, okay?”
“I will. Good-night, John. Thanks for being here.”
Rodney watched John walk out of the room and down the hall before settling down on his bed. He’d brought reading material because he had several experiments in the works, but he wasn’t expecting to be too stressed while in the hospital. Madison would be doing the hard part, undergoing radiation for a week to prepare for her part of the surgery. Rodney, however, would begin the series of injections of the drugs that would coax the bone marrow from his body.
As much as he hated needles, it was a small sacrifice. The injections would take place over several days, and there were side effects, of course. The biggest inconvenience Rodney would have to deal with would be the catheter, which would remain in place the entire time. It would be in his upper chest, and therefore he would have to wear the tie-around jammies provided by the hospital. He’d also have to settle for sponge-baths rather than showers, so he’d be yearning for that the whole time he was in there.
Rodney had been alone for three hours by the time his solitude was interrupted and his sister burst into his room. “I hope you’re happy about what you did!” she announced, loud enough to startle him into dropping his notepad.
Rodney eyed her owlishly. “What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about Madison,” Jeannie snarled, “and how she hates me now! What lies did you tell her?”
“I didn’t lie to her, Jeannie,” Rodney said indignantly. “I told her that I would answer any question she asked, and that I would tell her the truth. And do you know what her first question was? She asked me if I really got a girl pregnant in college and then convinced her to let you adopt the baby. So maybe I should ask you what you told her!”
Jeannie crossed her arms defensively. “Madison didn’t need to know anything about you, Meredith. She is my daughter.”
“At the heart of it, Jeannie, Madison is my daughter. And as much as you might have tried to erase me from your life, I do exist. I know Mother talks about me, because I actually managed to do a few things she could be proud of. Hell, one of my textbooks is being used in the school Madison attends, so Madison was going to know my name and wonder if you and I are related. She was going to have questions.”
“It wasn’t your place to tell her anything, Meredith! If she hadn’t gotten sick, I could have….”
“You could have pretended that I was nobody.” Rodney sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose to stave off the building headache. “Jeannie, I have never once, in fifteen years, tried to interfere in your parenting. I believed then, and I believe now, that Madison is best served in a family with two parents and stability, and I couldn’t offer that. I don’t know why you decided to hate me as a child, and I don’t care why you continue to do so. What I care about—what I’ve always cared about—is the health and welfare of my daughter. If this offends you and your delicate sensibilities, then you’ll have to deal with that.”
“I don’t want her talking with you anymore, Meredith,” Jeannie said peevishly. “In fact, I’d rather you just stay in your room until you’re allowed to leave the hospital.”
Rodney turned bleary eyes to Jeannie and nodded once. “If that’s what you want. You can leave now, Jeannie. I’m a bit tired and I need to be up early tomorrow.”
It was with a sense of emptiness that Rodney watched his only sister leave the room, and he felt sure that he would never have a good relationship with his family ever again.
* * * *
Rodney was packing his little suitcase, waiting for John to come back after retrieving the car, when he received an unexpected visitor—Caleb Miller.
“I know it’s not the popular thing to do lately,” Caleb said softly, “but I really wanted to thank you again for everything you’ve done.”
Rodney sat on the edge of his bed and inclined his head. “I told you already, Caleb, I would have done anything to help Madison.”
Caleb leaned back against the door and shoved his hands into his trouser pockets. “I don’t just mean the bone marrow, Meredith. Fifteen years ago, Jeannie was in a very bad place. The second miscarriage just about destroyed her, and being told that she’d never be able to have children sent her into a deep depression.” He tilted his head to his chest and sighed. “You have no way of knowing this, but Jeannie was in a clinic for a couple of months dealing with that depression. She was on a few different medications before her sheer stubbornness took over and she refused to take them anymore.”
Rodney slumped visibly. “No, I wasn’t aware of that. She was always careful to keep her personal business away from me.”
Caleb licked his lips. “Yeah, she’s still like that. But when your father came to us and said that we’d be able to adopt your unborn baby, well at first I was shocked. I think Jeannie was, too. Certainly nobody had ever mentioned before that you had the Carrier Gene. But your father’s promise gave her some sort of new life, and she immediately started decorating a nursery in our apartment. I went right along with it up until I actually met you in the hospital before you delivered, and that’s when I realized that the adoption might not have actually been your idea. That was when I thanked you for the first time for letting us raise your baby, and I don’t think it ever occurred to Jeannie to do the same.”
Rodney laughed mirthlessly. “Jeannie has never thanked me for anything in my life, other than thanking me for leaving home when I was eleven. I’m sure she thought that I had long ago earned her scorn, and that adopting Madison was something she earned for putting up with me when she was young.”
Caleb ran one hand through his curly hair. “Yeah, she probably did. Anyway, even if she doesn’t see the gift she was given, I certainly do, so I wanted to thank you again. For everything you’ve given to us—to me. Madison is my very life, but I’m sure you understand what I’m talking about.”
“I do,” Rodney agreed. “And I feel really weird saying ‘you’re welcome’, so I’m going to thank you, instead, for raising such a great girl.”
Caleb offered a smile. “Well, Jeannie will be back with Madison soon, so I should let you get back to packing. I’m sorry we couldn’t be family, Meredith. You seem like a pretty decent person.”
“He is a pretty decent person, Caleb,” said John from just outside the door, “and you’d be very lucky to count him as a friend. It’s too bad your wife has such an attitude problem.”
Caleb stepped aside to allow John admission and waved good-bye to Rodney.
“He seems like a decent fellow,” John said wryly. “I wonder what happened to your sister.”
Rodney folder his hands together in his lap and fiddled with his fingers. “Yeah, I wonder about that, too. I have almost perfect recall of my entire life, but I do not remember doing anything to Jeannie when I was young.”
John lifted one shoulder and sat in the chair beside the bed. “It’s her own fault if she doesn’t know you, because you’re a great person. And you’ve done some remarkable things that she will never acknowledge.”
“I know. I just, I remember how it was when I was little, chasing after Jeannie for attention of any kind. She always looked through me like I wasn’t there. Now I know it was just wish fulfillment—she wished I wasn’t there, so I wasn’t.”
John reached out and snagged Rodney’s hand. “So, have ya been sprung yet?”
“No, not yet. The doctor is due anytime now, so I’m all packed and ready. Now I just have to wait.”
“You should get your jacket ready, because it’s a bit windy today.”
Rodney gave him the side-eye. “I’m not putting on a jacket until I absolutely have to. I’m running a bit hot for now, remember?”
The exit exam went quickly, with Rodney being reminded to seek medical attention if he started feeling poorly. The discharge nurse was happy to allow John to push Rodney’s wheelchair down to the lobby entrance, and then Rodney had to sit patiently while John retrieved the car.
And then they were on the road back to Colorado Springs. Rodney looked back at the hospital as they pulled out of the parking lot, imagining Madison looking out the window to wave good-bye. He’d likely never see her again, but he knew that she should be on her way to recovery. That should be all he could ask for.
It should have been enough. Instead, he felt his arms begin to ache again like they did at the beginning of the whole thing, when his baby was handed over to his sister and he had nothing left to hold.
Chapter Six: Business as Unusual
Rodney was careful with his recuperation, not wanting to take any chances with his health, but he still got bored sitting in his apartment with only Simon for company. So, with permission from his own physician and Dr. Janet Fraser, Rodney was once again spending his days in his personal laboratory deep under Cheyenne Mountain. He was mainly working on whiteboards, figuring the formulae for getting the Puddle-Jumpers up and running while Miko Kusanagi and Radek Zelenka did all of the practical work on site on PX3-866.
That planet was coming to be a true godsend for everyone at the SGC, and O’Neill wanted it turned into an Omega Site for Stargate Command—a separate base meant for scientific projects and troop maneuvers. The Goa’uld Hekate was ramping up attacks on many of Earth’s allies, and the Tauri were helping in the fighting. It was as close to an intergalactic war as Rodney ever wanted to come. The SGC already had an Alpha Site, where away teams would dial in to in order to keep anyone following from gaining access to Earth through the Stargate, but the Omega Site would be a separate permanent base altogether.
The main reason for that location was, of course, the hangar full of Puddle-Jumpers, the miniature space ships that were ideal for troop movement and material transport. They could also move through space and fire drones, so they were ideal military vehicles—or they would be once Rodney, Miko, and Radek updated the operating systems and made them safe for general use. It was a project dear to Rodney’s heart, as he was the one to discover the cache of vehicles. His main concern was making sure they were operable by anyone, not just ATA gene carriers.
Simon was currently holding court in the corner of Rodney’s office, playing with a string toy wielded by Sergeant Dean Bates, who had been cat-sitting while Rodney was in the hospital.
“You’re spoiling him, and he’s going to like you more than me,” Rodney teased as he scribbled on the whiteboard.
Bates looked up and grinned. “He’s a great cat, McKay. I can’t have pets where I live, so it’s nice to be able to pop in here for a stress break.”
Rodney’s mouth twisted slightly. “Yes, he’s the reason I’ll not be able to move full-time to the Omega Site once the set-up is finished. I wouldn’t risk taking him through the ‘Gate, and I’d hate for something to happen to him off-world. He’s not a young kitty.”
Bates flipped the feathered toy and Simon jumped agilely after it. “He’s doesn’t seem old to me.”
“No, he doesn’t. But he was already around four years old when I adopted him. He’s not old by any stretch, but I still want to keep him safe and healthy. And that means safe on this planet.”
“Yeah, well, speaking of the Omega Site—I have to get my gear ready for the mission tomorrow. We’re taking teams 8 and 12 to support Kusanagi. She’s a real task-master when she’s on a roll.”
* * * *
“Normally we’d make a kind of big deal about this sort of thing,” General O’Neill said as he pinned the silver oak leaves to John’s uniform collar, “but you don’t seem like the ‘Big Deal’ type.”
John cleared his throat as he stood at attention. “I’m really not, sir. A ‘Big Deal’ type, that is.”
O’Neill stepped back and offered an official salute to his newest Lt. Colonel, John Sheppard. “It’s long past due, if you ask me. By all rights, I should be pinning eagles on there instead.”
John returned the salute and said, “I’ll do my best to wear this with distinction, sir.”
“I know you will, John.” O’Neill retreated to behind his desk and sat down. “Now, I should probably tell you that the Pentagon is really excited about those Puddle Jumpers on the Omega Site.”
John smirked. “I’m pretty excited about them myself, sir. I don’t know when they’ll be operational, but I hope it’s soon.”
O’Neill nodded. “They’ll be a valuable asset in the war against Hekate. I know we’ll never be able to use them on Earth, but I hope they’ll be a good start to our own Space Force.”
John chuckled softly. “I never, in all my life, thought I’d be living in a Sci-fi movie. Pocket-sized space-craft, alien wars, little grey spacemen…this is very crazy, sir.”
O’Neill smirked. “Tell me about it! The day the Stargate opened for the first time, I didn’t know what I was in for. Seeing an ancient civilization thriving on another planet, being subjugated by another alien overlord…it was almost too much. There are great things on the other side of the wormhole, Sheppard. There are dangerous things, as well, but there are wonders to behold. And now our job is to keep this planet safe from all threats that could come through the Stargate—or from an orbited ship. Having those Jumpers online will certainly help with that.”
John nodded. “I’m getting ready to have part of the storage above the ‘Gate fitted to be a hangar for at least three of the Jumpers, so we can have them here for ready use once they’re operable. There’s plenty of room that’s going to waste, and Sgt. Siler said he’ll have the materials to reinforce the structure by the end of the week. It’s a lot of work, but it’s necessary.”
O’Neill leaned forward and folded his hands together on top of his desk. “I’ve always considered myself to be a fair and involved leader around here, Sheppard. The health and welfare of the people in this mountain are of my concern because I think we’re a family here. Slightly dysfunctional, perhaps, but a family nonetheless. So I have to ask—how is McKay doing, really? I know he’s been through a huge shock lately.”
John’s eyes widened. “You could say that, yes. He’s…doing okay, I think. But I honestly think it’s only because he’s actually used to being disappointed by his family, which I can totally understand. His brother-in-law seems like a decent fellow, but his sister is a real piece of work, and I hope I never meet his parents. But he seems to have his head together, and he’s at his best when he’s working, so I’m glad he’s recovered enough to be back here.”
“I’m just happy to have him. I know he could write his own ticket anywhere in the world, and I’d be crazy if I thought I could keep him penned in down here, away from the academic community.” O’Neill pulled an envelope from his desk drawer and passed it over to John. “McKay was pleased to pass this along to me, and I thought I’d share it with you in case it slipped his mind because of all the latest hubbub.”
John accepted the envelope and read the return address before pulling the letter out of it. His jaw almost dropped when he realized it was a formal invitation from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, asking Dr. M. Rodney McKay to present himself (and a guest) to the banquet in Oslo, Norway, where he would be awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for his work with vacuum energy and creating a clean energy source.
“Wow!” John exclaimed. “This is…wow! Do you think he’s told anyone else? Besides you, I mean?”
O’Neill shrugged. “I’m not sure. He gave me that just before you left to charge the ZPM, because he wanted to make sure he could clear his calendar. Then he got that call from his sister, and you know what happened since then. The banquet is in December, so you’ll want to make sure your calendar is clear as well, I think.”
John blushed. “I’ll keep that in mind, sir. Now I think I’ll go congratulate him, because this is really something to celebrate!”
John practically bounced out of the elevators on his way to McKay’s office and lab. He understood that Rodney was distracted lately, with finally meeting his daughter and having that final confrontation with his sister, so it wasn’t beyond the realms of belief that this incredible honor had slipped his mind, but John wanted to remind him in the kindest way. Rodney would want to share this honor with his close colleagues, he was sure.
John knocked on the office door before gently opening it, making sure that Simon didn’t try to escape. “Hey, Rodney, how are you doing in here?”
Rodney’s face lit up when he saw John standing by his door. “John! I’m fine, really. The soreness has faded a lot, and I have no weakness like they warned me about. Of course, I didn’t have the hard part, so…. Hey, you’ve got oak clusters on your collar!”
John smirked. “Yeah, O’Neill felt I was due for a promotion.”
Rodney frowned. “You should have told me. I would have come to see that.”
John ducked his head shyly. “It was real quiet, Rodney. He just called me into his office and shook my hand, and that was it.”
“Still, I want to take you to dinner to celebrate…if that’s okay with you?”
“Yeah,” John smiled. “I’d like that. And speaking of congratulations—O’Neill showed me this.” He brandished the vellum envelope, and Rodney stared at it.
“I forgot all about that,” he said after a moment.
“Yeah, I figured you might have. So I guess we have a mutual congratulatory thing going, huh?”
Rodney flipped the envelope between his fingers. “This was…amazing. I mean, they approached me a few times before, but this was the first time I felt I actually deserved it.”
John rested a hand on Rodney’s shoulder, catching his attention. “I’m sure you deserved it those other times, as well, Rodney. You’re a brilliant man, and I’m definitely not the only one to notice that. I know things have been crazy lately, but you deserve this right now.”
Rodney gazed at him with hopeful eyes. “I don’t suppose you’d like to go to Norway in December, would you?”
“Rodney, I would be delighted to accompany you to this banquet, and I promise to applaud you very loudly. Now, what say we head to the ‘Gate room and arrange a message to be sent to Radek and Miko, because I know they’ll be thrilled for you.”
They were, in fact, thrilled for Rodney’s honor. All of Sheppard’s team were thrilled for him, and they were happy to celebrate John’s promotion as well. The intimate dinner that John was hoping for quickly turned into a large party at O’Malley’s. John couldn’t object, really, because Rodney had finally lost the haunted look he’d worn since the hospital. In fact, he was laughing and joking with everyone like he hadn’t a care in the world.
After seeing how he reacted around his family, John could completely understand why Rodney came off as rude and brusque. Anyone would have trouble getting close to strangers when their own family acted like that.
“Okay, McKay,” said Ford with a grin, “now that you’ve got something big to be proud of, why not tell us why you and Shep were gone all last week?”
Rodney’s cheerful demeanor dropped quickly. “I had a family issue to deal with. A medical emergency, and John was kind enough to keep me company.”
Lorne sat back and asked, “Everything is okay, right? With you, I mean.”
“I’m excellent, thank you,” Rodney clipped, and John reached out and covered one of Rodney’s hands with his own. Rodney took a long drink from his water glass and sagged against John’s side. “It’s not exactly a secret now. I suppose I can tell friends.”
“Only if you want to, Rodney,” said John supportively. “Friends don’t owe friends explanations.”
“Yeah, totally,” said Lorne apologetically. “I was concerned, but you don’t owe us an explanation at all. I’m just glad you’re okay.”
“No,” said Rodney. “It’s alright. Maybe if I admit it often enough, it won’t bother me so much.” Rodney shifted slightly in his seat, aware that everyone at the table was paying very close attention to him. “When I was in college, I had an ill-fated relationship that resulted in an unexpected pregnancy. My sister adopted my child and raised her as her own, which shouldn’t have been a problem except that my sister basically lied about my entire existence. Anyway, my daughter has leukemia, and her best plan for treatment was a bone marrow transplant, so that’s where I was the last week.”
Ford frowned into his beer. “I feel like there’s a whole lot missing from that story.”
“Yeah,” agreed Bates. “Like, why wasn’t her mother a good prospect for a donor, and how did you convince her to let your sister adopt in the first place.”
John squeezed Rodney’s hand. “It’s okay, Rodney.”
Rodney nodded. “The baby was mine,” he said. “The pregnancy was mine. I’m a Carrier. I don’t like to tell people, especially military people, because a lot of them think….”
“They think you’re nothing but a cock-slut,” said Bates flatly. “I don’t understand it, but I heard that attitude a lot in health class in school—we’d get to the section on Carriers, and all the guys acted like those people were basically just born to lay back and spread their legs. It’s disgusting.”
Rodney nodded. “It really is. They guy I dated in college was really cool, until I got pregnant, and then he dropped me like a hot rock. I was all alone with literally no family support. In fact, it was my father’s idea for my sister to adopt my baby, because obviously a socially inept genius was not fit to raise a child.”
“Wait,” said Lorne with a frown, “is that why you’re so nervous around all the soldiers in the mountain? Because you’re afraid of being harassed?”
Rodney lifted his chin defiantly. “It’s a real concern, in my experience. I mean, I know nobody can tell just by looking at me, but the very few times that people have known have not been good. I have worked with the military several times in the past, and I found myself cornered more than once. I don’t actually think I give off a sexual vibe, so I came to the conclusion that certain men were to be avoided at all costs. I almost refused to work directly with the SGC because of that.”
“I can’t believe that attitude,” Lorne said angrily. “We had a Carrier in my old neighborhood when I was growing up. He and his husband had three kids and were the nicest people. He wasn’t a genius like you, but he baked one heck of a cupcake!”
Rodney sighed. “I can barely boil water for pasta. You’d have figured that I would have learned to cook at some point in my life, considering I’ve lived alone for most of it.”
Ford perked up immediately. “I could teach you to cook, Dr. McKay. I cooked with my grandma all the time. You’re smart; you could learn easily.”
Rodney snorted softly. “I may take you up on that, Aiden. Goodness knows I need to learn more than pasta. My diet definitely needs to improve.”
The conversation grew lighter after that, with everyone discussing their favorite recipes from childhood. Rodney didn’t really have a family favorite, as neither of his parents cooked very well.
“I did have a favorite take-out place in Toronto, but it closed years ago. My conservators were excellent in the kitchen, and Mrs. Johanneson made a schnitzel to die for. But mostly she made stews and casseroles that were pretty basic.”
“You need to eat more fish and vegetables, Rodney,” said Miko with authority. “In Japanese culture, food is an art form that nourishes the body. We eat very light; not much is fried and the sauces are not thick or heavy.”
“Yes, but too much rice upsets my stomach. And I strongly object to tofu on principle.”
John laughed loudly, and Rodney smiled in response. Making John laugh was the best thing.
* * * *
Klaxons blared loudly under Cheyenne Mountain, and the speakers burst to life demanding that a medical team be dispatched to the ‘Gate room.
Rodney dropped his marker on the table and rushed out of his office, barely remembering to close the door behind him. John was off-world with SG-3, on a simple trade mission to what O’Neill referred to as ‘Planet Swap-Meet’, but there were also three other teams out as well. There was no reason to think the emergency was with John—or anyone else on the team. It could be anything, really. Medical got called for all sorts of reasons.
Rodney reached the ‘Gate room just in time to see Aiden Ford dragging Dean Bates down the ramp—and Evan Lorne carrying John, who was unconscious and bleeding. As soon as the team was clear, Walter slammed the iris shut to prevent anyone from coming in after them, and the medics swarmed in to do their thing.
Rodney hovered helplessly in the background, watching as John was given a cursory examination before being loaded onto a gurney and taken quickly out of the ‘Gate room. Warm hands wrapped around his arm and Rodney was pulled out of the way by Miko, who also looked concerned.
“Come, Rodney. They do not need you to be in the way. We will wait outside the infirmary.”
Rodney allowed himself to be guided out of the way. “I don’t know what to do, Miko. I gave him my medical power of attorney before I went into the hospital, but I don’t have his. What if I can’t see him? What if he’s really hurt?”
“Rodney, you need to calm down,” Miko soothed. “There is no way anyone here would bar you from being by his side if he was hurt badly, and he’ll have the very best of care. Now let’s get some food for you, because your blood sugar drops when you are stressed.”
Miko prodded him into the mess hall and settled him at a table with Radek before moving to retrieve a sandwich and coffee for him. Rodney ate, but tasted nothing, his mind on the blood streaming down John’s face. By the time Rodney was finished, Aiden had come in looking for him. Rodney was instantly alert. “What happened?”
Aiden shook his head. “I don’t even know, man. We were moving along great with the negotiations, when these tremors hit. Lorne said there was no volcanic activity there, and people have been trading there for generations with no trouble, but suddenly the ground was shaking and walls were falling. Shep started forcing the other traders through the ‘Gate their own homeworlds, but we had to keep dialing over and over, and the situation kept getting worse. We wanted to get as many to safety as we could because we knew we could keep our ‘Gate open longer, which was a really good thing.”
“So John’s injuries weren’t from weapon fire?” Rodney asked, concerned.
“No, he fell into a crater that opened in front of the ‘Gate. Him and Bates both went down hard, and it took a while to get them back up and through to here. If we hadn’t already had the wormhole engaged to home, we never would have made it, because it would have closed down again before we got them out.”
Rodney was relieved, but only slightly. “Is he still unconscious?”
“Yes, but McKay, he’s going to be okay. Dr. Fraser sent me to find you because she knew you’d want to be there when they woke up. Lorne has a broken wrist, so he’s awake and occupying a bed next to Bates.”
“Well, then,” Rodney said, standing, “we should take him cake. They have chocolate today.”
* * * *
John opened his eyes slowly, groaning against the bright light.
“Hey,” came a whisper to his left, “let me get that light.” And then the light was dimmed and John opened his eyes again to see Rodney looking worried beside him.
“Hey, buddy,” John rasped. “I’m sorry I worried you.”
“You should be sorry; we haven’t had a first date yet, and hospitals don’t count.”
John winced. “Yeah, I had a plan for that actually, but the team hijacked it. Was anyone else hurt?”
“Lorne has a broken wrist, but Bates cracked several ribs and broke his leg in two places to go along with his concussion.”
“Uh-huh. And how bad am I?”
Rodney stroked the back of John’s arm with tender fingers. “Well, you also have some bruised and cracked ribs, a broken collarbone, and a broken ankle. You’ll be trussed-up in a sling for a while, but it’s okay because you won’t be walking for a while. Do you want me to bring you anything?”
“Nah, I think I’ll just go back to sleep for a bit. Are you going to watch over me?”
Rodney smiled his crooked smile. “It’s only fair, since you kept me company in the hospital.”
Of course, the irony of the whole thing was that SG-3 was on that trading planet to offer Rodney’s dialing system to several of their allies. After Rodney became a full-time, official employee at the SGC (he preferred the term ‘contractor’, though), the first thing he did was play with his dialing system to create a smaller, portable device that could be used on the Alpha Site. His eventual success was a suitcase-sized device that connected directly to the ‘Gate base itself rather than the DHD, and was easily carried along with all the other equipment that Gate Teams used on every mission. It wasn’t light-weight, but Col. Samantha Carter configured wheels from a MALP unit to fit on the case, making it easier to carry through the ‘Gate.
“I wish you could have had time to connect the test unit to the ‘Gate, John. It would have helped the evacuation.”
“Hmmm, yeah,” John whispered as he drifted off to sleep. “But we did alright, and nobody died on our end. We knew we’d be able to keep the connection home open longer, so we could have brought stragglers with us if it came to that.”
The next day, Bates was stabilized enough to be packed off out of the mountain and on his way to Michigan, where his family would care for him while he healed fully. He seemed happy enough to be able to spend both Thanksgiving and Christmas with his family, and the rest of the team sent him off with cheerful waves. Lorne’s’ injuries were not as bad, but O’Neill took pity on him as well, so he also left the mountain for the remainder of November. Ford opted to stick around, becoming a temporary member of SG-7 until the middle of December, when he had leave for Christmas as well.
Rodney drove John’s car to his apartment to pack clothing and other necessities before packing John up and taking him to his own apartment. Since John was in an arm sling, he couldn’t use crutches to hobble along on his walking boot, so Rodney felt the best option was a wheelchair and home care. Rodney’s apartment was in a newer building, and was made for accessibility, with wider doors and slightly lowers counter-tops, so John would be able to maneuver around better there than in his own smaller place.
Because he didn’t want John to be bored, Rodney drove John to work with him every morning so that he could do his own paperwork or help strategize missions for the other teams. O’Neill was giving John more responsibilities around the SGC because Colonel Feretti, the 2IC of the base, was giving hints about retirement and Carter had no intention of taking on that responsibility. John was a natural leader and showed the same concern for the personnel of the mountain, civilian and military alike, as O’Neill did, so the leader of the SGC felt that John was the best choice for 2IC. John was flattered, but he really hated all of the extra paperwork, a fact that had Dr. Daniel Jackson laughing every time he mentioned it.
While John finished his own work, Rodney was finally taking trips to the Omega Site, where Miko had managed to power-up the consoles in the Jumper hangar but still wasn’t sure what they controlled.
“You’re an intelligent woman, Miko,” Rodney had bitched often, “so there’s no reason why you can’t learn to read Ancient. It’s no more difficult than Latin or Greek.”
Her reply was always, “I don’t like symbol-based languages, Rodney. I don’t even like Japanese, and I was raised with it!”
In fact, very few of the linguists in the SGC were adept at reading the Ancient language. Many of the symbols had various meanings, so context was very important, and differences between many of the other symbol was so minute as to be easily over-looked, so translating was not an easy task. Rodney had spent a lot of time reading Dr. Jackson’s essays about the language, so he understood the miniscule differences well before he had even seen the writing in person. He had access to smaller pieces of Ancient technology during his earlier work, and some of those pieces had printing on them, so Rodney used that as a base for his understanding of Ancient, and while he was in no way convinced that he’d be able to speak Ancient if he was given the opportunity, he was confident in his ability to read the language.
* * * *
“Oh. My. God!”
Rodney was on his back under one of the consoles, with panels and burnt crystals and wires littered around him on the floor, and an open toolbox by his knee. His shout drew the attention of everyone in the hangar, and scientists and soldiers alike rushed to his side when he climbed to his feet.
“What is going on, Rodney?” Radek asked urgently.
“This console,” Rodney said as he knelt to dig through his kit, “controls the ‘Gate on this planet, and it has a shield…somewhere. I need to replace a lot of the crystals, and I might have to grow a few from scratch, but I think I can get that shield to work. From the description written on the inside of the console, it looks to be almost…organic, of a sort.” Rodney pulled several large red crystals from his kit, and four smaller green ones. “I need more of the green ones. All of the ones in the console are completely black.”
Miko rushed forward to gather the crystals in Rodney’s hand. “I’ll get to that now. How many do you think you’ll need?”
“Um, grow a lot, Miko. If this one console is anything to go by, the other four will need them as well. And try to grow or recharge six of the red ones, but mix-up the sizes on those.”
Miko bobbed her head and rushed off, followed by Dr. Lee and Dr. Hauser. Instead of climbing back under the console he had been working on, Rodney moved to the next one in line.
“What are you doing, Rodney?”
Rodney shot Radek a peevish look. “I need to get inside the rest of these. The Ancients, for all that they were a disorganized mess most of the time, actually took the time to inscribe the purpose of the consoles inside the freaking consoles! It’s not quite an instruction manual, but it’s a close as I think we’ll get here. And maybe I’ll find out which console controls the Puddle Jumpers.”
Radek frowned. “Do you not need ATA gene to do this?”
“Not this part. In fact, I think it’s better that I don’t, so I can’t accidentally turn something on while I’m replacing the control crystals. But what I can do is make sure they won’t explode once they’ve been initialized.”
“Once, McKay,” complained Major Durham of SG-8. “That only happened one time.”
“And it was one time too many! You’re just lucky that it was a small instrument, Durham, or else your entire team could have been paste and that section of the Alpha Site would have collapsed!”
Durham took a threatening step toward Rodney, but was pulled back by Lt. Rogers. “You think you’re so smart, but you’re only here because O’Neill has a soft spot for geeks!”
Rodney frowned. “No, Durham. I know I’m smart, and that’s precisely why I’m here! I was asked to be here to fix the ‘Gate, and I did. I was tasked with charging ZPMs because of my own research into vacuum energy, and I succeeded. I’m here now to make this planet a viable secondary military post, complete with working spacecraft and a safehouse, and it looks like I’m going to succeed here, as well. General O’Neill doesn’t have a soft spot for geeks; he knows quality people when he sees them and he collects them to make the SGC the best place on Earth. I’m here to help advance the human race; why are you here?”
Durham tried again to advance against Rodney, but Rogers wrestled him away again and shoved him to the entrance of the hangar. Rodney shook his head slowly before climbing under the second console and pulling the base cover off.
“Rodney, you should not bait the soldiers,” Radek admonished.
“Well, the soldiers shouldn’t bait me. Look, Radek, I’ve had the social graces of a dead moose for most of my life. I never made friends, for a variety of reasons—my family’s distance, the fact that I was either much younger than my classmates or much smarter than my peers—it didn’t matter. I was always alone, but I had my big brain and my projects to keep me occupied, and I took random, short-term teaching engagements just so that I could still function with other people.” Rodney sighed. “The point is, this is the first place in a long time that I’ve felt like I had a home, family, and future, and guys like that, that think raw weapons power is the only thing the SGC has to offer, are a real threat to it. They look down on the scientists, but we’re the ones that’ll keep the project going and we’re the ones that’ll make the biggest contributions.”
“And most of us couldn’t agree more,” said Lt. Rogers as he returned from outside. “I sent Durham back home, because he’s obviously stressed about something and has been acting irrationally for a while now. Finn and Miller went with him, and they’ll be reporting on his behavior. I’m real sorry if he got out of hand with you, Dr. McKay. We really didn’t see any of this coming until it was too late.”
Rodney waved him off. “Look, I’ve seen people like him my entire life, Rogers. He didn’t get physical with me or any of the other scientists that I’m aware of, but his attitude could become a real problem. I know he’s needed around because of his ATA gene, but activating that devise on the Alpha Site was a stupid thing to do, and if Miko hadn’t been on hand to shut it down then a lot of people could have died. It was pure luck that Miko needed to be there to retrieve those crystals from the growing chamber so that she could begin working on the Jumpers, even if they didn’t completely work.”
Rogers nodded absently. “I think he got some bad news from back home, but he hasn’t mentioned anything. I’m going to recommend that he gets some significant leave and maybe counseling, because something has to give.”
“Right, well, thanks for looking out for your team, Rogers. We do need all the good men and women that we can get. Now, I need to find out what these consoles are for.”
* * * *
“There’s a what?”
Rodney leaned back against the wall and watched as General Jack O’Neill quietly freaked, pacing around this office. “There’s an orbital shield that covers almost that entire planet. I’ll have to dig deeper into the console computers, but I think it was originally some sort of scientific base before the Ancients completely disappeared, which could have been more than ten-thousand years ago.”
O’Neill sat heavily in his chair. “Okay, you do that. Or you have Zelenka do it, whatever. I know you’re getting ready to travel to Oslo, and I don’t want you to miss that. What I do want, however, is to limit ATA-positive personnel from the Omega Site. I don’t want any long-ago experiments to be activated before we know for sure what was going on there.”
Rodney nodded. “I agree. Unfortunately, that also means that Dr. Jackson should avoid the place, because he’s been ascended. He could also trigger or activate something unexpected, and we could use a little less ‘unexpected’ right now.”
O’Neill frowned. “Danny’s not going to like that, but I suppose we can take detailed video recordings of any writing that we find, and he can translate from here. Have you finished growing the crystals you need for the consoles?”
“Not yet. We have SG-12 searching for some of the chemical compounds needed for the process. I’ve asked for a lot of spares to be grown, so we need more of the materials that aren’t available locally.”
“Okay. Good work, McKay, as usual. Now get Sheppard out of here and feed him, because he’s been grumping all day.”
Rodney smirked and opened the office door. “He’s only grumping because I won’t let him play with the Jumpers, even if they’re not operational at the moment.”
Chapter Seven: Revelations and Acknowledgments
“Dear Uncle Rodney,” John read while Rodney packed the suitcases they’d take to Norway the next morning, “I’m sorry to be using that name and title, but calling you ‘Dad’ seems disrespectful to the father that raised me, and calling you ‘Meredith’ like Mom does seems disrespectful to you. Anyway, I’m writing to thank you again for the bone marrow donation and to tell you that it seems like I’m on the mend! My Leukemia is in remission now, and my blood cells are healthy, so you’ve given me life twice now. Dad said it was okay if I wrote to you if I wanted, but Mom is still out of shape over it all, so I have to mail them secretly, which sucks. My regular day nurse was nice enough to mail this one for me, but I’ll be leaving the hospital soon. I have to have private tutors for a while so I can make-up missed school work, but I’d rather do that than be held back a year. Dad said you’re really smart so I should be, too, but Mom refuses to have me tested and she didn’t want me to move forward in school when my teachers recommended it. I make really good grades in English, History, and Math, and I totally could have skipped a grade or two if I’d been allowed, but Mom said I needed to be ‘normal’, whatever that means. Anyway, I hope it’s okay if I write to you. I’m thinking about paying for a Post Office Box, if you want to write back. Yours, Madison Miller.”
John put the letter down with a frown. “Rodney….”
“Yeah, I know.” Rodney sighed as he closed the suitcase. “I’m going to write back right away, and mail it on the way to the airport, and I’m going to tell her that I don’t mind receiving or exchanging letters, but I don’t want her to sneak around behind Jeannie’s back. Enough lies or half-truths have been spread around in this situation.”
“Yes, and Jeannie would probably find a way to blame you for it all, anyway. Are you sure your suit bag will survive the trip? Airplanes are noted for good storage, you know.”
Rodney stared at him long enough for him to squirm a bit. “John, we’re taking a private plane, so my suit bag will hang properly in the passenger area. Were you not paying attention when we discussed our travel plans?”
John’s expression was of wide-eyed innocence. “Not really? I mean, I was really more concerned with learning how to move around in this walking cast. I was so relieved to not have to use a cane or crutches anymore that everything else kinda slipped on by. So, the SGC is springing for a private plane?”
Rodney huffed. “It’s my plane, John. I own two, actually, but my lawyer uses one when she has to travel for my business, as a perk of dealing with me. I thought you knew that.”
John sagged back into his chair. “I did, intellectually. But it just didn’t register in real life, you know? I mean, it’s not like you flaunt your wealth or anything, so I don’t really think about it. And your professional biography doesn’t exactly mention your bank balance.”
Rodney sat carefully on the sofa across from John and rested his elbows on his knees. “Is that a problem? I’m in high demand in the Physics circuit, and my past contracts paid very well. I also told you about the educational trust that my great-grandfather laid out for me, and it was invested very well so that I’d not really be forced to work for my father if I didn’t want to. I’ve been adding to that investment for years now, keeping only enough in liquid assets to pay for food and housing and basic utilities. I don’t need much, and I’ll not want for anything.”
John relaxed his posture, gently lifting his injured leg onto the available pillow sitting on the coffee table. “No, it’s not a problem. I don’t need much, either, and I do have my own money to fall back on. I did tell you that my family was pretty well-off.”
Rodney nodded. “Good. I’d hate to have something stupid like money become an issue between us. We could have much more interesting arguments than that.”
“Yes we could,” John agreed. “For instance, we could really throw-down on the opera thing you have going on in here.”
Rodney threw a decorative pillow at John’s face and stood up to retrieve a notebook. “You’re an ass, John Sheppard, and possibly an uncultured Philistine. I like to listen to opera when I’m brain-storming. It’s very powerful music.”
John laughed. “Hey! Johnny Cash is powerful, too! And he sings in English!”
Rodney pointed a finger at him and declared, “Uncultured. Philistine. Now, how do you suppose I should address the issues in this letter?”
John sobered immediately. “Well, you want to start by telling her how happy you are that she’s recovering. Nobody should face death because their body is failing them, especially a teenager. Then you should address the ‘Uncle Rodney’ business. I mean, how do you really feel about that?”
Rodney tilted his head in consideration. “It’s not…horrible. I mean, way back when, I was basically told I’d be ‘Uncle’ for her anyway, so this is sort of like a promise fulfilled.”
“Good,” John said with a gentle smile. “That’s the best attitude for the whole thing. She’s gotta be conflicted about you, even after talking to you for a short while in the hospital, so letting her know that you won’t try to replace her parents is a good thing.”
Rodney looked up sharply. “I’d never do that, John. I mean, maybe ten years ago I might have thought about it, but Jeannie and Caleb are all she knows now, and I could never take that away.”
John watched him write for a few minutes before hesitantly voicing a question that had been buzzing around in his head for a few weeks. “Do you, um, ever think about having more children?”
The pen stopped moving over the paper, but Rodney kept his head down. For a long moment, John feared that he might have upset Rodney, but the other man gently set paper and pen on the coffee table and folded his hands together over his stomach. “I’ve…thought about it. I’m in a much better place in my life now, and I’m definitely more mature.” Rodney looked up at him blankly. “Unlike women, getting pregnant late in life isn’t quite as dangerous for me, so I’d at least have a relatively healthy baby at my age. Why do you ask?”
It was now John’s turn to look away, and he stared at his hands while he said, “I never thought about a family before. I was career military, and my job wasn’t always safe, for one thing. And I always preferred males as partners, so that never equaled anything other than adoption, which I’m not strictly against. I think adoption is a wonderful thing, but I’ve heard all sorts of horror stories about same-sex couples splitting after adopting, and that does terrible things to the kids involved.”
“Parents splitting at all is hard on the kids, John. And sometimes toxic parents who stay together are bad for the children.” Rodney sat back and leaned his head against the back of the sofa and stared at the ceiling. “Hell, my parents care a lot about each other from all accounts, and they were great for Jeannie but were horrible for me. There are no guarantees about family, you know that.”
John licked his lips. “Yeah, I know that. But, when I was younger I never really thought about being a parent.”
“John,” Rodney interrupted quickly. “I think maybe we should spend more time together away from work before we have this conversation. I know we’ve basically been living together off and on for the past month, but that was while one or the other of us was healing from injury or surgery. It was intimate, sure, but not intimate. And we’ve only been on a couple of dates. We read different things to relax, and you mock my work music.” John laughed weakly, but Rodney continued. “I like you a lot, but I’d like to build on that, if you’re of the same mind. I think we could be good together because we’re good friends, but I’d hate to screw that up if we’re bad in other ways.”
“Of course,” said John soberly. “I agree completely. Now, why don’t you finish that letter, and I’ll order delivery for dinner. Did you want Chinese?”
“Nah,” said Rodney as he retrieved his notebook from the table, “I’m in the mood for lasagna. If you order from D’Angelo’s, they have killer tiramisu.”
John reached for his cell phone and asked casually, “So, does going to this award banquet count as another date?”
Rodney chuckled. “Not exactly. But we’ll be in Oslo for more than a few days, so I’m sure we can sneak in a date or two while we’re there.”
* * * *
Dear Madison—I’m very glad that your illness is in remission, and I’m happy that I could have helped make that happen. My biggest hope for you is a long, happy life.
I don’t mind that you’ve written to me, and I would be happy to exchange letters, cards, or e-mails, but in no way should you sneak around or lie to your mother to do it. Jeannie clearly has issues regarding me, and I do not want her to bring those issues to you. If she does not want you to contact me, then you need to respect her wishes, at least until you are eighteen and old enough to do as you wish. You don’t have to like it, but you do have to respect it.
As I write this, I am preparing to fly to Norway, where I will be officially receiving the Nobel Prize for Physics. It’s a very exciting thing for me, because I worked on this particular project for many, many years before bringing it to fruition. Never stop your dreams, Madison, even if they seem to take too long.
–Dr. M Rodney McKay
Ps-It’s okay to call me ‘Uncle Rodney’, because I had always wanted to be that to you if I could not be your father.
* * * *
The weather in Oslo was very cold and very wet. They arrived in a constant drizzle that never let up during the limo ride to the Oslo Grand Hotel. Still, the view through the rain-coated windows was stunning: Oslo was a beautiful city, built on the waterfront and steeped in history. John glanced at Rodney, who was reading over his acceptance notes, and smiled. The man of the hour might be distracted for the moment, but John was looking forward to exploring the city with him—even if they had to carry umbrellas the whole time.
The Grand Hotel was…grand; a stately white and black structure that spread generously over the better part of a city block across from a decorative park. There were tourists buzzing around the front of the building snapping photos of the hotel and grounds, and lines of taxis and limos pulling in and out of the drop-off area. John was ready when their car came to a stop, and he guided Rodney gently by the arm into the lobby while a porter gathered their luggage. Rodney had fought the idea of armed security, noting that the Hotel and Academy would certainly be fully staffed and very safe for all recipients of the Prizes that year, and John had agreed—in theory.
In reality, John was given special dispensation to serve as an armed escort to ensure Rodney’s safety while he was out of the country. The Norwegian government was very accommodating on the subject, especially since they had recently begun sending military personnel to staff ‘Gate teams at the SGC and wanted to keep relations friendly in that regard. John knew he was hiding nothing from Rodney, even if the other man had said nothing about the arrangements, so he was happy when Rodney allowed himself to be closely escorted with no effort.
The lobby was abuzz with activity, so John was on high alert while a personal concierge introduced himself to Rodney and began to outline the program of events for the following few days. John was grateful when the woman checked Rodney into the hotel with no problems before escorting the two of them to their shared room, where they were happy to close the door between them and the rest of the world while Rodney reviewed his schedule.
“It looks like we have time for site-seeing in the morning, just after breakfast, and again tomorrow afternoon, before the banquet and award ceremony.”
John locked the door to the room and settled on the sofa gently. “That sounds nice. I’m glad we packed your orange fleece, because it’s cold out there.”
Rodney laughed softly. “Yes, well, we’re on the North Sea in December, so it’s going to be. Still, this is probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so we should make the best of it. I have a gift list for Christmas, do you?”
John frowned. “I…no, should I?”
Rodney huffed. “Well, I have to buy for Miko and Radek, and Miriam and her family, and Madison, of course.”
John laughed. “No, I get it. You buy specifically personal things for the people you care about. I do have a few people to buy for, but I’ve always done my Christmas shopping through catalogues or the internet. It’s not as personal, but I’ve frequently been in places where using the personal touch wasn’t possible. Still, I bet my sister-in-law would love a knit scarf from a local artisan….”
“Yes,” said Rodney, clapping his hands together, “exactly that! Miko has given me some not-too-subtle hints about wool or silk, and I’m always very careful about Madison’s gifts even if I’ve never managed to give them to her. For instance, I never buy clothing items but I will occasionally buy good-quality accessories. Children outgrow clothes very quickly, but a decent scarf or hat will last a long time.”
John smirked. “I bet you also bought a lot of educational toys for her in her younger years.”
“Of course I did! Her welfare is very important to me, and that includes her mental development.”
“Are all the gifts in good condition after all this time? I mean, couldn’t you donate them or something?”
Rodney shook his head and moved to unpack his suitcase and hang his tuxedo in the closet. “I have always intended that she would receive them, every single one. I knew after a while that she would be much too old to appreciate some of them, but I needed for her to have tangible evidence that I cared for her because I didn’t know what Jeannie might have said to her as she grew up. It’ll be her decision what happens to them after she gets them, so if Madison wants to keep them or donate them or whatever, I won’t argue. I keep an eye on the storage facility, and nothing has been damaged in any way. Nothing is wrapped, but there are cards indicating which Christmas or birthday they were meant for, and I have a diary I keep for them, noting the thought process for each gift so Madison will understand the inspiration that went into it. I’m not one of those absentee parents that buys things as an after-thought.”
John hobbled over to him to help unpack, and he nudged Rodney’s shoulder with his own. “You gave her the most important gifts you ever could, you know. You carried her in your body and cared for her before she was born, then you gave her the family that would raise her, even if it was reluctantly, and you again gave her life just a few months ago. She’s young yet, and may be over-whelmed by everything she’s learned recently, but in the end I think she’ll appreciate how unconditional your love really is. And from what I’ve seen, Caleb seems like a good fellow who really does appreciate your sacrifices, even if Jeannie does not.”
* * * *
“I would like to thank the Academy Committee for considering me for this honor,” said Rodney as he stood behind the podium facing the gathered crowd for the Awards Ceremony. “While I acknowledge working hard for my achievements, I did not do so in the hopes of international recognition, so I am awed that you have chosen me for this distinction. My only hope for this project was clean, responsible energy for the world.”
John sat in the front row of the auditorium watching as Rodney addressed the audience and the Committee. They had spent the last few days listening to Laureate lectures and touring the city, and shopping. The whirl of activity was exciting but not overwhelming, and John and Rodney had begun treating the trip as an excellent opportunity to get to know each other on a more private level. They ate meals together, held hands while walking through the city, and cuddled in bed while talking into the night. Physically, they had kissed, but still had not progressed past heavy petting. John was in no hurry to move further; he was enjoying the company of his brilliant boyfriend.
And now his brilliant boyfriend was dazzling an international audience while receiving his highest honor.
“And in conclusion,” Rodney said after much applause, “I would like to state that my legacy shall continue with this prize. The monetary gift associated with the Nobel Prize is most often used to further research or the arts, but I shall be investing my portion in a cause that is dear to me: Project Blue, a foundation dedicated to the nurturing of young geniuses so they may gain the educations they deserve while also maintaining the childhoods they need. Had this foundation existed thirty years ago, I might not have been placed into an adult situation in university before I was mature enough to deal with it. While I do not regret the education I received at such a young age, I often wonder what my life had been like had I been able to maintain friendships with children my own age during key development times. Project Blue allows children of above average intelligence to advance in their education while allowing them to remain at home with their families and to socialize with their peers without pressure to perform.
“There are many of us who know the pain of isolation; of being the youngest in a class, or the smartest, or socially awkward and lonely. Project Blue was incepted to prevent that isolation if at all possible, and I beseech all of you to invest, either with time, money, or experience, in this program, so that we can all nurture our future. Thank you, again, very much.”
The final applause was almost deafening, and John rose to his feet with everyone else in standing ovation. Rodney preened like John had never seen before, not even after charging that first ZPM, and John thought the look was very appealing on him.
Later, after they had returned to the hotel room and changed from their formalwear, John wrapped his arms around Rodney as they sat on the sofa and requested, “So, tell me about this Project Blue.”
“Hmmm…well, Project Blue was created out of a private think-tank I was part of after I achieved my second PhD. Basically, thirty very intelligent people from several countries were brought together to moan about how hard it was to grow up a child genius. I know it sounds really obnoxious, but our lives weren’t great. I mean, take my personal story: I was in college at age 11, so I couldn’t make friends with classmates, who were all very much older and more mature than me, and I was segregated from my family, so I had no personal support system. I’ll fully admit that I was a lonely child, and I adopted my first cat to cope with the isolation.
“So anyway, this geek-fest began as a sort of elite bitch-session. We didn’t exactly bond over our pasts or anything, but at one point someone said something along the lines of ‘What if we could have attended college classes while still in an elementary school environment?’, and we went from there. There are qualifications a child must meet before being invited to become part of Project Blue, and testing can begin as young as six years old. At no time are any children made to feel as if they are worth less if they don’t meet the requirements, nor are they made to feel like they’re better than everyone else if they do meet them. We’ve managed to create learning centers in several major cities, where colleges and universities have cooperative classrooms in regular schools, so exceptional children can attend advanced classes while socializing with their social peers. The Project also holds special summer courses and camps, enabling the students to not miss major school events while also thriving in an academic environment. Also, and this was my personal suggestion, children are kept with a family member at all times, so if a child must move away from home to become part of the Project for any reason, Project Blue pays expenses for moving and an apartment and upkeep and utilities. Children should never be separated from families unless that situation is completely toxic.”
John gently rubbed Rodney’s shoulder. “You’ve suffered a lot, but you still became an incredible man. I can see how fulfilling it must be to use your personal experience to make something good for future generations. And I especially like how you used that public platform to encourage others to support this program. That was very cool.”
Rodney blushed. “So—tomorrow is our last day here. Did you want to do some final shopping and maybe a nice dinner out?”
John smiled and kissed Rodney’s shoulder. “That sounds nice. I do have another gift to buy.” He brandished his cell phone with a little wave. “Apparently my sister-in-law is expecting her first baby. Help a guy out?”
Rodney nodded. “Yes, okay. I do have a bit of experience buying baby gifts. Or do you want to get something for the mother-to-be?”
John’s eyes widened. “That’s a thing? I mean, of course it should be, but I don’t want to presume.”
Rodney leaned in for a brief kiss before saying, “Everyone will be focused on the incoming baby, depending on how far along the pregnancy has progressed. I’m assuming she’s at least past her first trimester if she’s telling people, because miscarriage is rare after that developmental landmark has passed, so the baby is probably due in early Summer if not sooner. She’ll be stressed, and she might be completely convinced that she’s nothing but an incubator, so a gift of personal appreciation might not be out of place. If you’re not particularly close to her and your brother, then I’d stick to a baby gift like a comfortable blanket that can be used by a newborn. You don’t want to get toys until the baby can be expected to not smother itself with one.”
“I can do a blanket. I’m sure we can find something soft and gentle out there that’s suitable for a newborn.”
* * * *
Dear Uncle Rodney—
I showed your letter to Mom and Dad while Grandma and Grand-Dad McKay were here visiting, because you were right about sneaking around and lying to them. I got some very odd reactions, so I’m hoping maybe you could help explain them.
First, Dad was very okay with me writing to you. He told me that I should be able to get to know you because I’m made-up of part of you. He also told me that seeking out my other birth-father would probably be a waste of time.
Anyway, Grandma was thrilled with your news about the Nobel Prize, but Grand-Dad was really weird about it. He kept muttering under his breath, something about being an ungrateful brat growing into an ungrateful adult. And then Mom started yelling at Grandma about promising things she had no right to. When they all saw me listening, they shut up, but I think they were mad at me for some reason.
I’ve been doing okay catching up with my schoolwork. My attention span has recovered from my illness, that’s for sure. History remains my best and favorite subject, but I do pretty well in English, too. Obviously you’re a math geek, but what were your absolute favorite subjects in school? I’d like to think we should have stuff in common. What kind of movies or books do you like? Do you play music like Grandma? Now that I can really ask, I want to know everything about you!
– – – –
Madison shared your wonderful news with us, and I just had to write to tell you how proud of you I am. I know how much of a huge deal the Nobel Prize is, and I wish I could be there for you as your receive such an honor. You were always a special child. I only wish you knew that when you were much younger. I fear that when I allowed your father to advance your education, I actually helped build the divide between us. I know why you don’t feel closer to me, but I wish it wasn’t so.
Please call when you are able, as I would like to take you to lunch to celebrate. And feel free to bring your special someone, as Madison also mentioned that you have a beau now. I hope he’s a good sort and will treat you well, because you deserve the very best.
With Love, Mother
* * * *
“You don’t have to come with me, John. It’s going to be very uncomfortable all around and I like you too much to subject you to that.”
John leaned against the door jamb and watched Rodney fret over his reflection as he adjusted his tie for the fourth time. “Look, if you don’t want me to come and meet your mother for lunch, then I won’t. But I’d like very much to introduce you to my family, and I know that’s going to be awkward, so I’d really consider this a trial run.”
Rodney stopped fussing and turned to look at him, mouth agape. Finally he sputtered, “You really want me to meet your family?”
John rolled his eyes and moved forward to straighten Rodney’s tie. “Of course I do. You’re important to me, so at the very least I’d like you to meet my brother and sister-in-law. David is the one who reached out to me to create a relationship, so I think he deserves to meet the man I’m falling in love with.”
Rodney leaned back away from John. “Was that a slip? Did you really mean to say that?”
John grabbed Rodney’s shoulders and looked him in the eye. “Do not ever doubt my feelings for you, Rodney. At first I was impressed by your intelligence, then I was charmed by your sense of humor and your work ethic. I’ve always thought mental laziness was a turn-off. Then, I got to know you better, and I eventually wanted to be more than just friends. I wanted to ask you out more than once before that situation with Madison came up, so I took that horrible opportunity to spend more time alone with you in the hospital. We’ve known each other almost a year, Rodney, and with each day I like you more, and I want you in my life. Probably for forever, if I can get away with it. But if you don’t feel the same, then you should probably let me know so I can cut my losses before getting more involved.”
Rather than speaking, Rodney lurched forward and planted his mouth firmly over John’s in a deeply tender kiss, wrapping his arms around John’s waist to hold him close. Pulling away slightly, Rodney whispered, “I never thought I’d find anyone like you, and I was so scared that I was imagining it all.”
John caressed Rodney’s cheek with one hand. “You’re not imagining it. I feel an incredible connection to you, and I want it to grow. When David called to tell me the news about Lindsay and the pregnancy, all I could think about was sharing that good news with someone special—you. And David has invited me to come visit for New Year’s, and I really want you to come with me, to meet the brother I’ve been building a relationship with, and to be the one I introduce as my special someone.”
“I really want that, too. I finally think I deserve good things, John, and I think you’re a very good thing.”
John pressed in for another quick kiss before pulling back. “Good. Now, leave your tie alone, because it’s perfect. I think I look presentable enough to meet your mother, so we should go.”
The fact was, since it was less than a week before Christmas, it was highly unlikely that Rodney’s mother would be alone at the restaurant, and Rodney’s old childhood insecurities were coming back to the surface. He was very glad that John was with him, even if he feared his family was primed to make him out to be an ungrateful man-child. John had stood by Rodney’s side as he berated incompetent scientists and tore apart the ‘Gate dialing computer in order to stabilize the wormholes and potentially save lives. John had listened as Rodney rambled about his theories about the ZPMs and vacuum energy, even though it was obvious that he didn’t understand any of it. John had heard Rodney’s horror stories of his early life, his family relations, and his pregnancy, and he hadn’t been scared away, so it was very unlikely that seeing Rodney’s family dynamics up close and personal would have him running in the opposite direction.
Plus, John would actually be there to hold Rodney’s hand and keep him calm in the restaurant if he was tempted to lose his temper and storm out.
They chattered back and forth in the car on the way to Denver, mostly discussing the SGC Holiday Party, where they would exchange Secret Santa gifts and share potluck dishes with their team-mates and coworkers. They also placed private wagers on the likelihood of people getting drunk and kissing under questionable mistletoe, who would wear the ugliest ugly holiday jumper, and whether or not Dr. Simpson would succeed in having the Holiday Karaoke Contest that she’d been threatening for two months.
By the time they’d reached their destination, a high-end steakhouse near the hospital where Madison was still in residence, Rodney was calm and collected. He texted his mother to let her know that he’d arrived, and she replied that ‘they were in a private room inside’, which indicated that he was correct in assuming that the family as a whole was waiting to confront him. He showed the text to John, who offered a rueful grimace and said, “Well, you suspected this all along, and at least now you’re not completely surprised.”
Rodney took a calming breath and followed John to the rear of the car, where they retrieved the small stack of wrapped gifts they’d brought with them. Rodney was brave enough to bring Madison’s as well, even if he feared it would be kept from her. Rodney carried the gifts and John guided him into the building with a gentle hand on the small of his back, and once inside they were directed to a private party room.
Rodney took another calming breath before entering the room, and John leaned forward to kiss his cheek. “It’ll be okay, Rodney. Even if it isn’t, I’ll make it okay.”
“I believe you,” Rodney said gratefully, and then he pushed the door open and entered the room to face his family.
They were all there, with the exception of Madison, and Rodney thought it was either incredibly unfair to the girl or a strategic plan to keep her out of the line of fire. He wasn’t sure which he’d prefer.
“Meredith!” His mother called his name as she rounded the table and launched herself at him. He quickly handed the gifts to John before finding his arms full of his mother and he was engulfed in a hard hug. “I’m so glad you came! I’m so very proud of you!”
Rodney pulled back and kissed her cheek. “Thanks Mother. That means a lot.” He stepped back and reached to pull John closer. “This is John Sheppard, Mother. He’s…very important to me.”
John held out a hand in greeting, but Elaine McKay would have none of that and pulled him into a hug as well. “If you’re important to Meredith, then you’re important to me as well. Welcome, John.”
John cleared his throat as he juggled the gifts back into place. “Um, thank you, ma’am. It’s nice to meet you as well.” John looked around the long banquet table and saw only one familiar and friendly face: Caleb Miller. The other two people sitting on either side of Caleb, Jeannie and a man John assumed was Rodney’s father, were frowning. Well, Jeannie was frowning. Mr. McKay was scowling into a wine glass as if it had offended him somehow.
“You know Jeannie and Caleb, of course, since you were with Meredith in the hospital,” Elaine said brightly, “and this is my husband, Scott.”
John nodded in greeting before placing the gifts on one end of the table and joining Rodney as he sat across from Caleb—and next to his mother. John took a seat on Rodney’s other side and sipped from the water glass that was already in place.
“I’m surprised to see you here, Jeannie,” said Rodney stiffly. “I hope Madison is doing well.”
Jeannie opened her mouth to reply, but Caleb placed a hand on her shoulder to quiet her and responded in her stead. “Madison is doing very well, thank you. I’m glad you’re open to exchanging letters with her.”
Rodney was momentarily taken aback. “Oh, well, of course. I mean, I’m sure she has questions about me and where she comes from….”
“She comes from the same place I came from, Meredith!” Jeannie snapped. “We have the same parents and came from the same background. Madison should have been happy with what she knew!”
Rodney sat back and stared at his sister for along moment, shocked at the outburst. “Jeannie, we may have the same parents, but we hardly had the same background. And I grew up in a very different place than you did.”
Jeannie crossed her arms defensively. “Oh, yes,” she practically snarled, “you were the perfect boy who was given all the preferential treatment! You could do no wrong, and you were Dad’s favorite in all things, and I got to sit back and watch as you got all of the advantages!”
The vitriol was unexpected and all Rodney could do was gape at her. John opened his mouth to say something—anything, really, to defend Rodney, but Rodney’s hand on his under the table stopped him.
“What are you talking about, Jeannie?” asked Elaine, genuinely confused. “Meredith was never anyone’s favorite. We loved you both as much as the other, even if it was differently. His circumstances were much different than yours, but we always tried to treat you both the same.”
“I didn’t,” said Scott McKay bitterly. “I loved Jeannie with all my heart, for all that she was a surprise in my life. She was the reason I worked so hard to build a good life for us. But Meredith was a different story altogether.”
“Really?” Rodney asked quietly. “What made me different? What made me unlovable?”
Scott McKay snorted and gulped from his wine glass. “You were a challenge to me. I knew from the moment you were born that you would challenge me. I was right about that—you were strange and challenging and way too smart for your own good.”
“So what? You got rid of me?”
Scott pointed an angry finger at Rodney and said, “I gave you a very good opportunity to show your potential, and all you had to do was follow through and do right by me when you got your degree, and you couldn’t even manage to do that. I was counting on you, and you let me down!”
“Scott, stop it!” Elaine exclaimed, slamming her hand on the table. “You had no right to sign a contract for future employment in Meredith’s name, and it’s not his fault that he found another calling when he was in school. If you really wanted him to follow your footsteps, you maybe should have kept him home and nurtured him instead of allowing him to live with virtual strangers far away from us!”
Caleb and John both looked around the table, shocked the turn the conversation had taken. Jeannie’s mouth had dropped open in shock as well. “What are you talking about? Mom?”
Elaine kept furious eyes on Scott, who had refilled his wine glass, and said nothing, so Rodney answered. “I thought you knew, Jeannie. I thought everyone knew how brilliant engineer Scott McKay tried to sell the services of his genius son to the highest bidder, only to be shot down in the eleventh hour.” Rodney gripped John’s hand tighter as he directed his attention to his sister. “You see, when we were children and I was trying to garner favor with you while you spent your time ignoring me, I managed to solve a design equation for a propulsion system that Father was working on. He took all the credit, and the design was a success, so he got a good raise and minor promotion out of it.
“But I was immediately taken to have my intelligence and comprehension tested, and apparently I was freakishly off the charts. That was when Father took my personal education in hand as his own private project. I think I was all of nine years old when he told his employers about me and my big brain, and the plot was hatched that I would go to college and get a degree in engineering, and then I would become the youngest employee at the aircraft firm Father worked with. I don’t know exactly what he was promised, but the company was supposed to pay for my schooling until Great-Grandfather stepped in and provided the education fund for me. When I proved to be more difficult than Father imagined I would be and chose a different path, he washed his hands of me completely.”
“Rodney…” John whispered, but Rodney shook his head.
“It’s okay, John. I actually dealt with that a long time ago. After I refused to honor the contract he signed in my name, Father was demoted. The company went out of business a few years later, for unrelated reasons, and he got a different job, but he couldn’t bank on my reputation for that one.”
“And Madison?” John asked, squeezing Rodney’s hand gently.
Rodney took a deep breath. “When I found out I was pregnant, I wanted more than anything to retain Father’s approval. He made it very clear that keeping the baby was not the way to do that, and that if I wanted to remain on his good side I’d allow Jeannie and Caleb to raise the baby. After I was admitted to the hospital for delivery, I’d begun to think that I’d have liked to raise my own child, but Father took that option away from me by slipping custody papers in with my admission paperwork and I signed it without reading it because I was in pain and stressed. After I watched my sister carry my child out of the hospital, I realized that I had given enough of myself to please Scott McKay, and I was no longer willing to do more. I moved away from Chicago after I received my first PhD and only contacted Mother several months later to ask for news about the baby.”
John nodded glumly. “And that’s when you were told that you would have no place in the baby’s life at all, right?”
Jeannie’s eyes dropped to the table but Caleb looked furious—as furious as Elaine did. Scott kept drinking.
“I sent letters and cards and little gifts, but Jeannie sent them all back unopened,” Rodney sighed. “But you all know this. I never stopped loving her, never stopped wanting her. And when she’s old enough, I’ll hand over the key to the storage facility where many years’ worth of gifts and cards and letters are being stored for her, because I never want her to doubt that I ever loved her.”
“Mer, um, Rodney,” said Caleb, “you can give that to her at any time. Jeannie might want to keep that part of her life from her, but I do not agree. I always believed that you gave her to us of your own free will, and I never would have agreed to keep her from you. Jeannie told us all that you weren’t interested in being part of her life.”
“Jeannie Marie!” Elaine cried. “How could you? I mean, Meredith mentioned something like that when he was getting ready to donate the bone marrow, but I was certain he was mistaken.”
“Oh, give it up, Mom,” Jeannie snarled with rolled eyes. “He got everything in his life easily, and it wasn’t fair that he could have babies, too! It was supposed to be the one thing I could do that he couldn’t, and I just…I…failed.”
“Jeannie,” Caleb said softly, “you didn’t fail. Your body wasn’t built for carrying children. It happens sometimes, but it’s not your fault. And we could have adopted at any time, you know.”
“I wanted a child of my own blood!” Jeannie cried. “It was the least he could do….” Jeannie began to weep, but Rodney had had enough and stood up, pulling John with him.
“You know, I really appreciate the effort, Mother,” Rodney muttered as he collected his coat, “but this was a mistake. Jeannie has her own issues, whatever they might be, and I don’t have to deal with them in order to have a happy life. And he,” he said pointing at his father angrily, “will just get drunk and announce to anyone who will listen that I would never have won that award if it wasn’t for him, when anyone with any sense knows I never would have won it if I’d followed his path for me. And Caleb looks like he just wants to go hug his daughter, which I completely understand because I’ve wanted that very thing every day for the last fifteen years.
“So, thank you for wanting to celebrate my achievement, Mother.” Rodney leaned over and kissed her cheek. “To prove just how selfish I really am, there are Christmas gifts, chosen carefully from some truly elegant specialty shops in Oslo. I hope you all either enjoy them or choke on them, whichever is your choice. Caleb, call me later about Madison’s dragon horde, okay? There’s a journal to go with—a ledger detailing the thought behind each gift and how they were chosen, just so she can understand how much I thought about her over the years. I hope you all have as merry a Christmas as you are able!” With that, Rodney flounced out the door of the private room and headed for the parking lot with John trailing behind him.
When John caught up to him before they reached the car, he pulled Rodney into a tight hug. “Hey, what do you say we get some food and try to salvage this evening?”
Rodney nodded into John’s shoulder. “Yeah, I could use some comfort right about now.”
When Rodney moved to kiss John, he pulled away, leaving Rodney to frown at him.
“Hey—none of that, Rodney,” John chided. “I don’t want the first time we make love to be because I’m trying to make up for your family’s assholery, okay? My suggestion is that we get food here, because I just know your blood sugar is dropping fast like it always does when you’re upset, and then we make the long drive back to my apartment where we will watch ‘Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan’ and console each other with Cherry Garcia and Brownie Cookie Dough.”
Rodney huffed a soft laugh. “That…sounds amazing, actually. But maybe Chunky Monkey instead of Brownie Cookie Dough.”
“Okay,” said John, leaning in to kiss Rodney’s nose lightly. “Chunky Monkey it is. Let’s go. But, for what it’s worth—I think your mother and Caleb really did want to celebrate with you.”
Rodney inclined his head. “I think, perhaps, Caleb wanted to celebrate in Madison’s place because she couldn’t be there, but you might be right about Mother. She’s always meant well, but she’s rather blind when it comes to how others have treated me. I remember over-hearing my Great-Grandfather talking about my education trust, and she objected to so much money being set aside for me, but she never saw what I think he did in regards to my father’s plans. He did make sure to note that Jeannie would be treated equally when it came to her inheritance, and she got an educational trust as well, but I don’t know what she did with it.”
“I take it she didn’t talk college with you?” John asked dryly.
“No,” Rodney snorted. “Not at all, actually. I started my college career at the University of Toronto, which was my father’s Alma Mater, but I moved to Northwestern when I was sixteen. Jeannie chose to go to Ryerson College, and I think she went for a teaching degree, but she’s not actively teaching now—if she ever was. I know she married Caleb when she was still in school, but he was teaching at a different school altogether. I was in Chicago when that happened, and was not invited to the wedding.”
They drove along in silence for a few minutes before John said, “It’s their loss, really, because you’re a great person.”
Chapter Eight: Moving Forward Together
Rodney yawned and stretched his arms wide as he slowly woke. The bed was comfortable enough, and the pillows were nice and firm, but it wasn’t ‘his’ bed, and the only reason he’d slept as well as he did was, from the sound of it, currently in the shower: John Sheppard.
Rodney smiled as he vividly remembered the previous night, when John had gently made love to him for the first time in their relationship. His body was delightfully sore in all the right places, twinging when he moved his legs in another stretch, and he rolled over to get out of the bed, kicking the condom wrapper lightly when his foot hit the floor. That was one thing John had made sure of: safe sex. While they had tentatively talked about having children, they were in no hurry for it, and Rodney was pleased with John’s consideration.
“You can join me, if you want,” John called from the bathroom. “We can take a quick joint shower before breakfast and still be in time to meet David and Lindsay.”
“Okay,” Rodney replied, and he began gathering his clothes for the day. “I hope you have the water hot enough.”
John pulled the shower curtain back slightly and poked his head out. “No, I don’t, but you’ll have to deal with it because I like my skin not boiled off.”
Rodney laughed and climbed into the shower behind John, running a hand over his wet shoulder. “I can’t help biology, John, and I’m running cold now.”
John turned to face Rodney and smiled. “I understand that, but that is no excuse to take boiling showers. Now, wash my back and I’ll wash yours, and we can get out of here before I try to kill us both with shower sex, because this tub is in no way big enough for that.”
“No, I agree,” said Rodney as he soaped the washcloth. “But hotel tubs rarely are.”
An hour later, Rodney was finishing his second cup of coffee while John confirmed the meeting with his brother at his Virginia home. Rodney looked out the window of the hotel lobby and watched the snow fall for a while, wishing he’d brought his orange fleece. Instead he’d packed a puffy coat that he thought would have made a better impression on John’s family. It wasn’t day-glo, at any rate.
“Okay,” said John as he dropping into the chair across from Rodney and reached for his own coffee mug, “David is expecting us at eight, and he’s looking forward to meeting you. So is Lindsay, from the sound of it, so all looks good on that front. But…David said Dad is expected to arrive in the next day or so, so we should prepare for the eventuality of meeting him while we’re here. Or we could leave extremely early, whichever is your choice.”
Rodney raised one sardonic eyebrow. “Tell me the truth, John: do you think meeting with your family will be as traumatic and angsty as meeting with mine?”
John’s mouth twisted slightly as he swallowed his coffee. “No,” he said eventually. “I mean, I hope all will go well, but even if it doesn’t, I don’t think we can beat that last meeting with your family. I told you a long time ago that you won the lousy family lottery.”
Rodney inclined his head in agreement. “Yes, so…I think we can deal with meeting your father, should he show up while we are here. In the meantime, why don’t we go to meet with the one Sheppard that is looking forward to seeing you again.”
“Okay,” said John as he pushed back his chair. “And we’ll be nice to my brother, as well.”
David Sheppard’s house was large, expensive, and professionally decorated. It was clearly the home of a wealthy man of some status, but it lacked….
“It’s pretty impersonal, isn’t it?”
Rodney turned to smile at a very pregnant Lindsay Sheppard as she walked into the parlor carrying a heavily laden tea tray. “Let me take that,” he said as he took the tray from her. “You do have a lovely home, Lindsay.”
Lindsay lowered herself onto the sofa and accepted the cup that Rodney offered. “Yes, it’s very pretty, but it’s really generic, you know? Of course, it was David’s before we married, and moving in here was easier for both of us than finding a new place. It’s certainly big enough for a growing family and the school district is great—not that I don’t have time to deal with that. But I’d really like to redecorate.”
“So why don’t you?”
Lindsay shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess I just haven’t determined what style I like best for this layout. Anyway, I’ll soon be using my artistic talent to decorate the nursery, so maybe that will inspire me.”
Rodney sipped at his own tea with grace and good humor. “So, what do you do, Lindsay?”
Lindsay laughed. “I’m actually a graphic artist, so there’s really no excuse for living in a house this uninspired.”
In den, away from Lindsay and Rodney, John Sheppard was involved in a staring contest with his younger brother. Finally he broke. “Well, David, say something!”
David just shook his head. “I don’t know what to say, John. I mean, Dad practically vilified you and the military in one fell swoop, saying you were wasting your potential working for the government despite the fact that the Sheppard family has a rich history of serving in the military. And then you completely dropped off the face of the Earth for years, making us wonder if you were dead or in a ditch somewhere, before you resurfaced at the same time the news broke that we were fighting some sort of silent war in freaking space! And you were right in the middle of it! And when you started showing up in the news all the time, giving reports on the SGC and all the advancements you were making, Dad started bragging about you like the whole thing was his idea in the first place.” David sighed and shoved his hands into his trouser pockets. “And now you’re here with the most recent Nobel Prize winner on your arm, looking like a love-sick idiot, and he’s schmoozing with my wife over decaffeinated tea. What could I possibly say about any of that?”
John started laughing, then had trouble stopping. After a moment, David joined him in the laughter until both had tears running from their eyes. “Seriously, David?” John gasped. He took a few calming breaths to stop the laughter and wiped his eyes. “My life has been…okay. I love the Air Force and all the opportunities it’s given me, but I’ve had really rough times there as well.” He leaned back against the wall and wiped his eyes again. “I got shot down in the Middle East before Mom died, and was held captive in a cave for six months. I was beaten regularly, fed rarely, and was ready to lay down and die by the time my rescue came. That was one reason your letter of notification took so long to get to me.”
David stared at him. “God, John! Why didn’t we hear about that?”
“Because,” John said seriously, “Dad had disowned me when I joined up. My listed next of kin was my platoon leader at that time, and nobody in my direct chain of command was aware that they should notify my family. I changed it to General O’Neill when I became part of the SGC. I recently changed it to make Rodney my next of kin and medical proxy after I was injured off-world.”
David looked him over head-to-toe. “You were hurt? When was this?”
John shrugged. “About a two months ago. I just got out of the walking cast before we flew out here, and I’m very happy about that because I hated it.”
“Was it…was it a battle injury?” David asked tentatively.
“No, it was a freaking earthquake. We got the planet evacuated, but I fell in a damned hole before we got through the ‘Gate to come home. My whole team was injured to one degree or another, and the worst one is still convalescing at home with his family.”
“Jesus, John,” David huffed, combing his fingers through his hair, “you should have come home to your family. I reached out to you years ago, so you know you would have been welcome here!”
“Yes,” John agreed. “I would have been welcome here, but Rodney was there. We’d just started something more than friendship, and I was there for him when he went through a really tough spot, and I wanted to be with him while I was healing.”
“Okay, okay. I can understand that, I suppose. I was certainly gone on Lindsay very quickly when we met. But why didn’t you call after you started to recover? Why didn’t you call after you were released from captivity all those years ago?”
John sighed. “Ten years ago, before I shipped out to the Middle East in the first place, I called Dad, just to hear his voice, or Mom’s, one more time before I left. He wasn’t available to speak with me, but he told his assistant to inform me that he would be willing to speak once I regained my senses and came back to the family. Eight months later, once I was back stateside and in therapy to deal with my ordeal, I’d learned about Mom’s passing, and it was just one more thing to deal with. Seeing you at the cemetery was a shock, and that really didn’t seem like the proper time or place to mention being a POW. We’ve been doing okay for the past eight years, getting to know each other a little bit at a time, and I’m really happy with that, David. I didn’t call you after my most recent adventure because a lot of things were happening at the SGC and I was still puttering about around there doing all sorts of paperwork. And then we were making plans to go to Oslo for the Nobel ceremony, and now I’m here.”
“Huh,” David huffed. “My life is so calm compared to yours.”
John smirked. “Yeah, well, at least I’m not bored.” He tilted his head in the direction of the hallway and said, “What say we rescue our significant others from each other, yeah?”
“Yeah, okay. I can’t wait to get to know Rodney McKay. Especially since he’s all Dad’s been able to talk about for weeks now.”
John’s eyebrows raised in shock. “And why is that?”
David lifted a shoulder in a half-shrug. “Something about that clean vacuum energy thing and how Dad would like to secure the use of it for SI’s new plant. He’s trying to get hold of a military contract, and he wants to use you as an in for it.”
John barked a short laugh. “That’s kind of rich, you know. For one thing, everyone at the SGC knows I have a very contentious relationship with my father, so he won’t be able to cash in on my position there. And for another? Rodney is very proprietorial about his vacuum energy project. Dad would have to have one incredible prospect in order for him to be swayed.”
David bobbed his head. “Oh, I get that, for sure. What’s he using it for now, if I can ask?”
John waved a hand in Rodney’s direction and said, “Ask him yourself. You might be surprised.”
David entered the parlor and extended his hand to Rodney. “Dr. McKay, it is an honor to meet you. I’ve heard so much about out.”
Rodney accepted the handshake with a half-grin toward John. “Thank you, and please call me Rodney. You’re John’s family, after all.”
Lindsay laughed and waved at John. “Hey there, uncle-to-be!”
John smiled and leaned over to kiss her cheek. “How are you, Lindsay? Has Rodney been driving you crazy in here?”
“Oh, no,” she replied seriously. “We’ve been discussing my plans for the nursery. He has a lot of great ideas.”
John glanced at Rodney, who blushed and ducked his head. “Does he? Well, Rodney is a genius, after all, so I’d listen to any idea he has.”
The next two hours was spent in delightful conversation, with topics ranging from home decoration (no, David didn’t understand why Lindsay wanted to redecorate, but he was willing to entertain ideas) to John’s new duties as Second in Command at the SGC, to Rodney’s plans for Vacuum Energy. When Lindsay began to expound on the hardships of pregnancy, John was surprised when Rodney jumped in with tales of his own difficulties dealing with his changing body.
It was an easy enough transition for John to ease his brother into understanding that, yes Rodney could carry a child, yes Rodney had already carried a child, and very much yes—Rodney’s family situation was much worse than anything John had had to deal with, so please don’t worry about how Rodney would deal with J. Patrick Sheppard Senior.
Lindsay was practically in tears after learning that Rodney was forced to give his baby up for adoption and that his own sister had raised her to be a stranger to him, but she played it off as pregnancy hormones and Rodney forgave her easily. David was impressed with Rodney’s plans to use vacuum energy to supply the power not only for the SGC, but also the Area 51 research facility and several children’s hospitals country-wide. Rodney’s reasoning, that the money saved on power costs could be used for research purposes and staff salaries, was sound and logical, which David respected wholly.
Before they all knew it, it was mid-afternoon and Lindsay and David needed to leave for a pre-natal appointment. John and Rodney had made tentative plans to go into DC for dinner, so they took their leave and promised to join the couple for dinner the following day. John only had leave for two more days, so they had to make the most of their visit. Rodney had enjoyed the time spent with David and Lindsay, but he was really hoping that John’s father wouldn’t come home until after they left for Colorado.
* * * *
“Hey, John,” said David on the morning of John’s last day in Virginia, “there’s someone at the house that would love to meet with you.”
John sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “So, Dad finally showed up, did he?”
Rodney shot him a sharp look but stayed quiet while John conferred with his brother. It would, as it stood, only be Rodney’s problem if John consented to meet with his father, because Rodney would never leave him to do so alone.
“Okay, David, we’ve got to pack up here because our flight home is at six o’clock this evening, but we can be there after check-out.”
“That’s fine, John. Lindsay is entertaining him and Stella at the moment, so there’s no real rush. I apologize in advance if he totally offends you or Rodney with his pompous ways, but I’m sure you remember how he can be.”
“Yeah, I can remember David. But I’m made of stronger stuff than I used to be, and Rodney can just turn on his geek-god persona and decimate anyone in his path if it comes to that, so you might want to reinforce the idea that neither one of us can be bullied.”
“I’ll just do that. I’ll see you in an hour or so, John.”
John replaced the handset on the hotel telephone and hung his head, shaking it slowly. Rodney laughed at him and strode across the room to pull him into tight embrace.
“It can’t be that bad, John,” he said with mirth in his voice. “I mean, you’ve personally seen the McKay family in action, and we both survived that.”
John groaned into Rodney’s neck. “Yeah, but we don’t have any Ben and Jerry’s to get us through this one.” John lifted his head and pressed a kiss to Rodney’s mouth. “I’m very glad that you’re here, but I’m very sorry if you have to witness me getting medieval on my sire.”
Rodney snorted and pulled away to begin packing his suitcase. “I’ll forgive you for that only if you promise to one day get medieval on my sire. Now grab your shaving kit and get it packed. Check-out is in half an hour and I want lunch before we go to David’s house. I need to fortify myself.”
“Of course you do,” John laughed as he retreated into the bathroom to do as he was told.
John shut the door of his rental car and rounded the front fender to stand beside Rodney. “Well, we can’t turn back now; they’ve probably noticed that we’ve arrived.”
Rodney snorted and grabbed John’s hand to pull him toward the front door. “He can’t very well disown you twice, John, so how bad can this possibly be?”
John sighed. “It’s not the disowning that really bothers me, Rodney. It’s the fact that he never once cared about what I wanted for my life, that he dismissed my entire career until I became well-known enough to grab his attention. It’s the fact that he forbid my own mother from contacting me and let me find out she’d died when I was alone and suffering. It’s a lot of things that I find very hard to forgive and forget.”
“And for that I am truly sorry, John.”
John spun around quickly to find his father standing at the edge of the driveway behind him.
Patrick Sheppard looked sadly at his oldest son. “You’re looking well, John.”
John shrugged and relaxed when Rodney moved closer to him. “Yeah, well…my life is busy, but I’m doing okay. And you? David said the business is doing well, but how are you doing?”
Patrick’s eyes dropped for a moment before returning to John. “I’m well. Stella is keeping an eye on my diet, which I obviously need, and I try to take a long weekend every now and then to stay sane.” He took a deep breath, opening and closing his mouth a few times, obviously trying to find some words, but failing. Finally he spoke, his voice cracking in anguish. “John…I almost lost you…right after losing…your mother.”
Rodney gave John a gentle shove forward before retreating slowly, and John found himself with his arms around his weeping father.
Rodney back-tracked to the front door, where Lindsay greeted him with hot cup of tea. “I realize you’d rather have coffee, but we don’t have any in the house right now.”
Rodney smiled at her before accepting the cup. “It’s okay, really. This is very relaxing, and I could be relaxed right about now.” He looked over his shoulder and saw that John and his father had progressed to actually talking. “We’ll just leave them out there for a little while, but not too long because it’s cold and icy, and I’d rather not take John back with pneumonia.”
Lindsay smiled softly. “I completely agree. Come inside, Rodney. I have cinnamon cake in the kitchen.”
Rodney’s eyes brightened. “Oh! That sounds lovely.”
He gamely followed Lindsay into the warm kitchen, where he found David staring through the window at his father and brother. David turned around when Rodney entered and said, “Thanks for giving them time, Rodney. When Dad called yesterday, I took him out for drinks and told him a few truths about John’s life that he confessed to me. I thought he deserved to know, you know?”
Rodney nodded. “I happen to agree, actually. I just wish my own family reunion had gone so well. So, John told me that your father had remarried?”
“Yes, he did. Um, about a year after Lindsay and I got married, actually. Stella is…an interesting woman, certainly, but I requested that she not be here today. I didn’t think John should have to deal with her as well as everything else.”
Rodney’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “She’s a lot younger, isn’t she?”
Lindsay laughed out-loud. “Oh, boy, is she! She’s smart, don’t get me wrong. She works in R-and-D at Sheppard Industries, but she made it a mission to meet Patrick as often as possible, both at work and away from it. I’d been dating David for three years when Stella was hired, when she was freshly graduated from MIT. She was angling for a lot more than casual when she started basically stalking Patrick, but he was dazzled by her…brilliance.”
Rodney snorted. “John referred to her as the ‘trophy wife’ when we were exchanging family woes.”
David nodded absently. “Stella was very bright and shiny, and she said all the right things to get Dad’s attention. I was actually relieved that he married her, because her work wasn’t exactly great. I’m not sure how she got hired in the first place, really. I checked her personnel file, and her academic record was average, which is not great for research position. After she and Dad began dating publicly, she quit her job and I was able to fill her position with a better candidate that does cleaner work.”
Rodney shook his head. “I detest sub-par work. It usually makes my job more difficult.”
“Mmm-hmm,” David agreed. “In any case, Dad and Stella got married four years ago, and she immediately started in about having kids. But Dad already had two grown sons, even if he was estranged from one of them, and had no interest in having more children. When Lindsay got pregnant, Stella got really ugly-jealous. Dad wised up about her attitude and made an appointment for a vasectomy, but he always used a condom when they had sex, and boy wasn’t that an uncomfortable conversation to have with my own father.”
Rodney lifted an eyebrow. “I can’t possibly imagine,” he said dryly.
Five minutes later, when John entered the house, he did so along. “Um, Dad said he had to get home to Stella, or something.”
Rodney held out a hand to him, which John took happily. “Did you get things straight between the two of you?”
John shrugged. “We’re going to be a work in progress for a while, but we got started.”
“That’s good. At least you know where you stand now.”
“Yeah,” John agreed. “I’ve got my brother back in my life, I’m going to be an uncle in a few months, and I’m making a bit of progress with my father. This has been a very productive trip.”
* * * *
Rodney lay in bed, staring at the ceiling as the morning light filtered through the window. He needed to get up for work, but was completely unmotivated: This day was Madison’s birthday.
Rodney had always felt depressed on that day, but he had managed to power through and do what he needed to. But this year was different because he had met and interacted with Madison. He had been exchanging letters with the girl he brought into the world. Rodney had even finally delivered years of birthday and Christmas presents and cards, along with the written memories of how and where each gift was chosen. His daughter was thriving now, healing thanks to the bone marrow transplant that brought them together again, and he should have been happy.
He was happy.
He was also depressed.
Simon jumped onto the bed and Rodney pulled him close, hugging the cat for comfort. John would have been there with him, if he had known, but he was currently off-world negotiating with the Tok’ra for some kind of advantage in the Goa’uld War, and Rodney knew how important that mission was so he didn’t mention Madison’s birthday.
Rodney debated calling in sick, but he’d never been sick enough to miss work in his life other than when he was recovering from surgery, and he felt that being around people could be a good thing for him. So, with one last cuddle for his cat, Rodney got out of bed and into a hot shower, forcing himself to wake up.
After dressing and gulping a cup of coffee, Rodney called for a driver to take him to the mountain, and packed Simon into his carrier for the trip. He’d been spending more time in his office in the mountain, so Simon had become a regular feature there. Rodney was more comfortable allowing visitors in his office, so the cat was becoming more socialized, and as a result he was less anxious when Rodney had to leave him for short periods.
Once he arrived at the Cheyenne Mountain Complex and had signed in, Rodney was met by an Airman at the elevator bank who informed him, “You’d better keep your office door closed, Dr. McKay. They’re doing tours for new soldiers starting today, so there are a lot of strangers around. I’d hate to see Simon disappear or get hurt.”
Rodney offered a grateful smile. “Thank you, Airman Mallory. I appreciate the heads-up. I’ll keep Simon contained while we’re here today.”
The rest of his journey to his office was uneventful, and he was quickly joined by Miko and Radek, who brought two carafes of coffee and a tray of pastries to their mid-week brain-storming session. The whiteboards filled quickly, and the keyboards clattered, and the easy banter flowed, and it was almost enough to take Rodney’s mind off what the day way. Simon spent his day happily entwining himself around the ankles of the scientists while they worked, or occasionally batting at a string toy that Radek flicked for him, and the mood in the office was relaxing and productive.
By lunchtime, Rodney’s depression had lifted, and he was ready to join several more of the ‘geek squad’ in the commissary for a hot meal and fresh coffee. “You will lock office door, Rodney,” said Radek as they collected their notes together. “There are many strangers here this week.”
“Yes, I was informed when I got here. Has recruitment gone up or something?”
Miko shrugged her dainty shoulders as she left the office. “I do not know. I know that Col. Carter has been interviewing several new researchers, so we may expect new lab coats running around soon. And General O’Neill is trying to increase the personnel on the Alpha and Omega sites. I am thinking about requesting a rotation to the Omega Site myself, just for a change of pace.”
Rodney hummed as he locked his office door. “You would do well there, Miko, but don’t ask for a long rotation. I need you and Radek too much to lose you for a long time.”
“You could request a rotation as well, Rodney. The Omega Site is more your baby than anything else.”
“Yes, and I will happily travel there on a daily basis to work on the Jumpers, but my entire life is on this planet and I have no desire to leave it for extended periods of time. I don’t mind going there for a day or two at the most, but it will never fully be my place. Now, what’s for lunch today, do either of you know?”
They chattered on the way to the elevator bank, where they ran into a group of soldiers being escorted by Dr. Daniel Jackson. Rodney avoided eye-contact, as was his habit, until Dr. Jackson began to introduce everyone.
“Ah,” he said casually to his flock of followers, “Here is our personal dream-team of Drs. Kusanagi, Zelenka, and McKay. At the moment, they are working on bringing our space-fleet up to snuff, right guys?”
Rodney sighed and looked up. “Dr. Jackson, the Jumpers on the Omega site are fully functional, as you well know. All experimentation occurring there now revolves around the shield technology. And who are you leading around like a gaggle of baby ducks?”
Daniel laughed good-naturedly, as did his tour group. “I’ve been tasked with getting one group of Marines used to the way things run around here, and Sam has another group in the ‘Gate room now. If they can hack it here, they’ll be on permanent rotation in and out of the Alpha site as a first line of defense.”
Rodney waved a hand in the air and said, “Well, don’t confuse me with names until you’re absolutely certain none of them will wash out. It’s hard enough to keep track of the ones we already have.”
“Wow,” said one of the unknown soldiers, “that’s really rude.”
Rodney turned on him in a snap. “It’s really not. There are upwards of five hundred people that run around this place on a daily basis. Some are full-time staff of the Alpha Site, and they rotate in and out every month so they don’t get homesick. Our newest transitional positions are on the Omega Site, and O’Neill wants to rotate them in and out every two weeks because that particular planet has a twenty-eight hour day and we’ve discovered that getting ‘time sick’ is actually a thing that we have to deal with now. The ‘Gate Teams number to 16, and they’re mostly four- or five-person teams that consist of all-soldier or combination soldier/scientist teams, and they’re on rotation of two-weeks-on, one-week-off unless someone is injured badly or we come across opportunities off-world that can’t be passed off to other teams.
“And the civilian staff is huge, making up most of the research staff and some of the medical staff, and most of them don’t ever go off-world so they wander around the base on the many levels that we occupy here, along with the regular support staff like the administration assistants and supply personnel. And I know each and every one of those people by face and name, because it’s important that I do. I also know the faces and names of the military staff that travel here from Washington DC on a regular basis. Knowing those people helps keep me balanced, so I know who I will have to work with on a daily basis, and whose lives I may have to save. But if I had to remember the people who are ‘just passing through’ for tours or ass-kissing, or the soldiers who think working in this place might be ‘fun’ until they actually get here and see how stressful it really is, then my brain would be inundated with names and faces that, frankly, aren’t that important.”
The offended soldier opened his mouth to reply, but Dr. Jackson raised his hand and said, “No, he’s right, Wilson. Dr. McKay isn’t one of the diplomats around here, so he rarely has to give tours or convince people that they want to work here. He’s sort of the emergency crew around here. When a fire starts, in a manner of speaking, McKay is usually the one to put it out. If you do pass muster and stick around, be very sure that McKay will know you—and know everything important about you.” The elevator door opened, and Dr. Jackson motioned for his tour group to enter.
“We’ll catch the next one,” said Radek diplomatically. “We are headed up, not down, at this moment.”
As the elevator door closed, Rodney muttered, “I’ll certainly be remembering that guy.”
Miko laughed. “Rodney, you must eat. Surely your blood sugar is dropping for you to be so snippy to someone you’ve only just met.”
The trio of geeks was leaving the commissary area after lunch when Rodney heard his name being called. Confused, he looked around, and his heart almost stopped.
“Wow, Rodney,” said an unexpected voice in the corridor. “You’re here. I didn’t think I’d see you again, ever.”
“M-m-Mark,” Rodney stuttered through a suddenly dry mouth. “What a complete surprise. What are you doing here?”
Mark Humphries, a man Rodney thought he’d never lay eyes on again, was standing in front of a group of new recruits, observed uneasily by Col. Samantha Carter. He had aged well, Rodney could objectively see, but there was a hard look in his eyes that had not been there when Rodney last knew him.
“I’m being recruited to transfer here,” Humphries said. “I wasn’t sure about it, because I don’t like being confined indoors too much, but there seems to be a lot of…perks…to this job. The SGC is the complete elite, you know. I really didn’t expect to see you again. I thought the standards around here were higher.”
Beside him, Miko bristled, but Rodney placed a gentle hand on her arm. “Well,” he said, trying to be calm, “enjoy the rest of your tour. I have…to see someone about…a thing.” Rodney took off toward the elevators with Miko and Radek hurrying along behind him.
Mark Humphries was there. After being promised that it would not happen, Rodney was face-to-face with the man that broke his heart; with the man who refused to help Madison in her hour of need.
Rodney began to hyperventilate once the elevator doors were closed, and Miko began patting his cheeks to calm him. “Rodney, please. Do not stress yourself when Col. Sheppard is not around to help. Who was that man?”
“Mad…Madison’s father,” Rodney gasped. He took a deep breath, and then another, to calm himself. “I need…I need to speak to General O’Neill. He promised—that that person would never set foot in this mountain.”
“Rodney,” Miko chided gently, “there are often things outside of his control. You know this. You also know that plenty of soldiers do not last long around here. Not everyone has the constitution to stick around.”
Rodney nodded absently. “Yes, I know that. But it was….”
“It was great shock,” said Radek. “That much is evident. Come back to your office and cuddle your cat. I will make call to O’Neill.”
Of course, the call to O’Neill didn’t go as intended, mainly because O’Neill was in DC for a budget review and was not due back for two days.
Meanwhile, the geek party in McKay’s office grew exponentially and included members of SG-8, who Rodney worked with semi-regularly when they moved in concert with SG-3. Nobody asked why Rodney was upset. Nobody complained that Rodney was not being productive. Nobody suggested that Rodney pull himself together. They simply sat around the table in Rodney’s office and played with Simon and plied Rodney with chocolate and coffee, and once the work-day was over, they travelled en masse through the corridors and elevators to the surface. Lt. Finn offered Rodney a ride home, just to make sure he got there safely, and Rodney accepted.
He sat numbly and quiet in the car for the short journey, and when they arrived at Rodney’s complex, Finn tentatively said, “SG-3 has a check-in at midnight tonight. Do you want me to be there to call them back?”
Rodney shook his head. “No, but thank you. The Tok’ra are difficult enough to deal with when we’re actually working on their schedule, so I don’t want to bring John back too early or we might not get any progress made. I can deal with this, really.”
Finn frowned. “Are you going to be okay alone tonight, Doc?”
Rodney turned sad eyes to the soldier and shook his head again. “I’m really not sure. I think I’ll call my friend Charlie in California. We’re due for a phone call anyway. I’ll be fine, I promise.”
“Okay, Doc, if you say so. But I’ll be around tomorrow morning to give you a ride in. I like Shep okay, and I don’t think he’d forgive any of us if you were upset and we didn’t keep an eye on you.”
Rodney offered a wan smile. “I appreciate that, Finn. Thank you. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Rodney moved through his evening in a daze. He called Charlie Epps, being mindful if the time difference and Charlie’s lecture schedule, and the younger man was a great help in calming him. But Charlie wasn’t local, and Charlie wasn’t family, so he really didn’t understand how potentially damaging it could be to Madison if her sire was suddenly local.
Not that Boulder was particularly ‘local’, but that was really beside the point.
Rodney didn’t make plans to call her, even though it was her birthday. Madison’s letters came regularly once each week, and she was making clear progress with her health and studies, so Rodney saw no need to upset that particular apple-cart. Jeannie still allowed the letter exchange, but that could change with Jeannie’s moods.
Rodney also didn’t want to alert the Millers to Mark’s potential relocation if he wasn’t going to stick around. There was no sense in upsetting everyone when he might wash-out or change his mind. While most of the staff in the mountain was permanent, the SGC was largely transitory like the rest of the military bases in the country. There was every chance that Mark would be there for only a few weeks, and that Rodney would never, ever have to work with or around the man. There certainly would be no use in allowing Mark to learn how much is presence was disturbing Rodney. There was power in that, and Rodney didn’t ever want anyone to have that kind of power over him ever again.
He’d been hurt enough and was finally beginning to heal.
* * * *
“So, I get how the science is important around here, but do you all really just let that freak run around the place without an escort?”
Rodney, who had been on his way to the infirmary to meet John after his return from the Tok’ra Homeworld, halted in his tracks as he recognized Mark Humphries’ voice in the corridor ahead of him. He crept silently to the corner in time to hear Lt. Finn reply, “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about, sir.”
“That freak, McKay—he just runs around without some kind of escort!” Humphries laughed cruelly. “I knew him a long time ago, and he’s a real mess, just like the rest of them. All they want is sex, and you let him roam around all these soldiers unchecked. I didn’t realize the SGC ran a brothel, too.”
“Sir,” said Finn stiffly, “with all due respect, you’re out of line. Dr. McKay is a very respected member of the SGC family, and his work here is very important. I certainly don’t understand what you’re inferring about any so-called ‘freakishness’, but I’d keep that kind of talk to yourself.”
Humphries laughed again. “Oh, come on, Finn! Can’t you feel the pheromone vibe he’s giving off? He’s a Third! All they’re good for is sex, and they all need keepers or to be kept in whorehouses where they can’t tempt normal men!”
Rodney didn’t hear any response because the blood was pounding in his head. He’d feared something like this would happen when Humphries stuck around much longer that Rodney wanted. In fact, he’d been there for almost a week, and he seemed to be trying to settle in. Rodney had, so far, managed to avoid him, but the SGC complex was small, and it was only a matter of time before something like this happened.
Furious, Rodney turned on his heel and ran smack into General O’Neill, who looked equally angry. O’Neill placed careful hands on Rodney’s shoulders to steady the man. “Easy, McKay,” he said steadily. “I was on the way to speak with Sheppard and I heard that whole thing. Humphries will be out of here today, and if I have anything to say about it—his place with the United States Marines is no longer necessary.”
“General…,” Rodney started, but O’Neill shook his head.
“I’m sorry, McKay. I told you he’d never find a place here, and I meant it. But the Top Brass over-ruled me and brought in his team anyway. But there’s nothing that says he has to stay, and I have ultimate control over how I deal with ‘undesirables’ in my mountain.”
Rodney nodded shakily. “I…thank you. That attitude—it’s not rare, you know. I’ve dealt with it a lot in my life.”
O’Neill grimaced. “Yeah, and for some sick reason, it’s prevalent in the Military, but I don’t have to put up with it, especially in regards to someone I respect greatly. Why don’t you head back to your lab and I’ll send Sheppard to you after he clears medical. Right now, I need to rescue Finn before he beats the hell out of that asshole. I’d hate to send him to the brig for being a decent human being.”
Rodney nodded briefly and retreated back the way he came, trusting O’Neill to be the badass that he really was. John still had to debrief after clearing medical, so he had a while to wait. Instead of heading to his own lab, Rodney detoured to Miko’s lab, where she was running tests on a part of the shield generator from the Omega Site.
He knocked briefly before opening the door and her first words to him were, “What is wrong, Rodney? Why are you not in the infirmary with your man?”
“I, um, ran into an unexpected hurdle on the way to the infirmary. O’Neill is taking care of it now, but I didn’t feel like being alone.”
Miko scowled. “It was that asshole, Humphries, wasn’t it? He tried to call me an idiot for working so well with you the other day, but I refrained from smacking him down.”
Rodney nodded glumly. “I just overheard him referring to me as a whore and questioning why I was ‘allowed’ to have the run of the place.”
Miko growled and slammed her marker down on the workbench. “If O’Neill does not get him out of the mountain, I may kill him myself!”
Rodney laughed and sank down onto a bench with slumped shoulders. “I know I shouldn’t let him get to me, but I have this weak spot inside of me.”
“Yes, and assholes like that know all the buttons to push.” Miko sat across from him and took his hand in hers. “But Rodney, you know that not everybody in the world thinks that way. In fact, while bigots like that are very loud about their beliefs, they are a small minority. In many cultures around the world, Carriers are revered and honored, and in the SGC culture, you are respected and liked. There is no one who has worked with or around you, who has seen what you have done and are capable of, who would not come to your defense.”
“I do know that, Miko. And I’d fight that attitude from practically anyone else in the world, because it’s ignorant and uninformed.”
Miko nodded in agreement. “So why, then, does this attitude from this particular person bother you so much?”
Rodney sighed and curled into himself. “Because Mark Humphries is the person who impregnated me in college. He sired my baby, Miko, and then he told me to deal with it because a baby would interfere with his personal goals—and then he refused to donate bone marrow to that child in order to save her life. In fact, when Jeannie contacted him about it, he told her to never bother him again, and that is the only reason she called me about it.”
“Oh, Rodney,” Miko cried softly. “No wonder this man has you tied in knots!”
Rodney nodded glumly. “He’s married now, Miko, and he has two other children, and he turned my baby away. He’s a horrible person, and he makes me angry and he makes me feel weak, and I really want him gone!”
“Oh, he’s so gone, Rodney, you don’t even know!”
Rodney and Miko both started, as neither noticed the lab door opening behind them. They turned to see John Sheppard leaning in the doorway, and he looked pissed.
“John!” Rodney jumped from his stool and John wrapped his arms around the distraught physicist. “I thought you were still in the infirmary.”
John hugged Rodney tightly. “Oh, I’d already left the infirmary by the time you were on the way to meet me. I think I encountered Finn and that asshole around the same time you did, and I’m so sorry you had to hear that crap. But you’ll be very proud of Finn, because he kept his hands to himself and remained very composed while O’Neill reamed Humphries but good. His career in the Marines is over; he just isn’t aware of it yet.”
Rodney sighed, relieved. “I could have dealt with him, John. You know, for the good of the program.”
John laughed mirthlessly. “Oh, you could not! And you really should not have had to. Are you okay hanging with Miko for a while?”
Rodney nodded into John’s neck, and John kissed his temple. “Good. I have to debrief the General about our very successful mission, and then we’ll be able to leave the mountain. SG-3 is off rotation for a few days, so everyone is going to head to O’Malley’s for dinner. Are you up for that?”
“Yeah,” Rodney sighed. “That actually sounds really good. Did anyone else hear…?”
“No, I was the first in for my check-up, so I was the first out. The guys knew I wanted to see you, so they out-voted me.”
“Okay,” Rodney said as he stepped back. “I’ll see you soon. And I’m glad everything went well with the Tok’ra.”
John grimaced. “They were complete assholes, but the shield you’re working on is valuable to them so they worked with us.”
Hours later, Rodney was secured in the middle of a semi-round booth in O’Malley’s, being comforted by ‘his’ team and bitching about snake-headed alien parasites. The beer was cold, the wings were hot, and the company was safe, and Rodney felt like he was home.
It was a unique experience for him.
He was laughing at something silly that Bates said when his phone chirped with an incoming text, and Rodney pulled it out to see a photo of a test paper labeled with a bright blue ‘A’ at the top next to Madison’s name. He was smiling at the image when the phone rang, and he connected the call with a light heart.
“Madison! Congratulations on your History final!”
Bates and Ford made motions to move out of his way so he could leave the booth, but Rodney waved them off silently.
“No, I’m out with work friends right now, but I can call you tomorrow if you want. Great, I’ll talk to you soon. Good-bye.”
After disconnecting the call, Rodney proudly showed the text photo around the table. “History is her favorite subject, for some reason, but I’m glad she’s doing well.”
John moved his arm so it was around Rodney’s shoulder, and Rodney cuddled in close.
This was where he belonged. With these people. With this man.
Rodney smiled as he brushed a speck of lint from John’s uniform shoulder. “You always look really good in this. I should require you to wear it all the time.”
John laughed and leaned forward for a kiss. “If you did, it would get really boring after a while. That’s why I save it for special occasions.”
In truth, the military dress uniform was worn only for official occasions, like the promotion ceremony that John was about to go through. Of course, he’d also worn it for his wedding to Rodney, which was probably why the snarky scientist was partial to it.
John never thought he’d see the day he would marry; never pictured himself in any kind of domestic situation at all. But then he met Rodney and very gradually fell under his spell. Rodney was damaged but was not looking for a rescue, and that was the first thing that had attracted John. The next thing that drew him in was Rodney’s ability to love unconditionally. The way he tried so hard to give everything he could to the child he gave up—the fact that he gave that child away to be raised by a complete family—proved that, and John wanted to be part of that; he wanted to be loved like that.
He never pushed for more than Rodney was ready for. They dated casually for months, and then they began to spend entire nights together. Rodney was there for him when John began to rebuild his own familial relationships. In fact, it was John’s relationship with Rodney that seemed to ring a death knell for his father’s relationship—Stella, it seemed, couldn’t deal with having a homosexual in her family. While Patrick Sheppard was happy to welcome, not only a grandchild, but also a potential son-in-law, Stella Sheppard, his practically vapid younger wife, couldn’t handle the ‘stigma’ of John’s relationship. Every single Sheppard was happy to wave good-bye to her, and Rodney was there right along with them.
So, John finally convinced Rodney to marry him, and they both happily gave up their separate apartments in order to find a forever home. John wanted a yard for barbeques with his friends, and Rodney needed a home office. They both wanted a large kitchen because Miko was teaching Rodney to cook decent, healthy food. When a suitable home went on the market in O’Neill’s neighborhood, they jumped on it. It needed a little work done, but O’Neill was happy to supply them with a list of contractors, and they were able to move in within three months after closing.
They’d only married ten months prior—a quiet ceremony that had been attended by John’s family, his ‘Gate team, Rodney’s science team, and Caleb and Madison Miller. Rodney’s mother had been invited but she declined, stating a need to assuage his father, who had pointedly not been invited. And of course, Jeannie refused to accompany her husband and daughter.
Jeannie had refused every olive branch Rodney had offered for the past two years. After their last, disastrous encounter during their mother’s attempt at a family gathering, Jeannie completely closed herself off, only relenting to allow Madison contact because Caleb had insisted. Apparently Madison had been exerting her rather strong will when it came to being in contact with Rodney, and Caleb was very willing to over-rule Jeannie’s wishes on the subject. Even so, the presence of the two Millers during the small wedding ceremony was a surprise, and Rodney almost cried when he saw them in the Registrar’s Office.
Rodney’s relationship with Madison had progressed as well—in a very uncle-like fashion. Rodney had been invited to watch Madison’s debate team perform several times, and he was permitted to take her out, just the two of them, for her seventeenth birthday. Madison asked his advice about college when it came time to send in applications, and was genuinely surprised when Rodney revealed the educational trust he’d created for her.
Caleb and Jeannie were surprised as well, and Jeannie accused Rodney of trying to buy her daughter away from her. That fight was epic, and almost culminated in Madison running away from home before Rodney talked her out of it. Gentle, understanding Caleb managed to talk Jeannie around a bit, and she finally admitted that she could not forbid Rodney from setting up some kind of monetary trust for the child he birthed.
The fact was, it was Rodney’s money, and he’d started the educational trust when Madison was only a year old—back when Rodney was reeling from his own father’s betrayal and hoping for any kind of relationship with the child he’d given up. Jeannie had a choice of being graceful about it, or forbidding Madison from accepting the money and risking Madison turning completely away from her. Jeannie acquiesced very reluctantly. Madison took that small step and ran with it, charging forward into adulthood and independence, all with Caleb’s quiet approval. Madison chose to attend the University of Colorado, which made Jeannie happy because she was close to home, but she refused to live with her parents during her college years, so she used part of the trust to rent a house with a few other students. Jeannie tried to blame Rodney for that, as well.
* * * *
. And now John was standing in front of most of the SGC, receiving a promotion to Full-bird Colonel. The promotion ceremony was bigger and better attended than John’s previous one, but he didn’t mind the crowd. His father was in the front row, wearing a proud smile like any father should, and his brother was beaming next to him and holding his quietly wiggling toddler son. Beside David sat Lindsay, who was rocking their baby girl gently to keep him calm. She was eighteen months old and unused to large crowds, so she was a bit fussy. Lindsay had told him that the fact she was teething certainly didn’t help his disposition, but she was usually a happy child. John believed her because it did not serve him not to, but Alicia Regina Sheppard rarely smiled around him, unlike her older brother, and that was a fact.
Rodney was sitting on the other side of John’s father, looking very proud himself. John winked at him on the sly, and was amused to see Rodney’s shoulders shake with soft laughter. General O’Neill pinned the silver eagles to John’s collar and sharply saluted him, and John returned the salute with a small smile. When O’Neill ended the salute, the crowd erupted in applause, and John turned to offer his father and his husband a joint salute. Rodney laughed and climbed to his feet with the assistance of Patrick Sheppard, waddling slowly to the stage to meet John on his way into the crowd.
John reached out to embrace his husband, gently brushing a hand over the large baby-bump that Rodney proudly displayed.
“Things are good now, Rodney,” he whispered against Rodney’s lips.
Rodney returned the kiss. “Things were good once I allowed you into my life, John. They’re just about perfect, now.”
John laughed when the baby kicked against his hand in agreement.