I swear, I can write fic about grown-ups. I *can*.
It's a normal day.
Rodney gets up, hunting down clean clothes in the vain hope that eventually Atlantis will understand the nature of his schedule and spontaneously develop a way for them to clean themselves, stumbling into the mess hall for a pot of coffee before Teyla and John show up for breakfast. Adult Sheppard had possessed a healthy dislike of mornings that Rodney had secretly approved of, but the younger version's awake by five and running with Ronon every morning or meditating with Teyla, so by the time he's handed over to Rodney's custody, he's*energetic*.
And *chatty*, talking about what he'd seen, what he'd eaten, who had given him candy, which botanist had told him about which plant, and how many doors had lit up for him before Rodney had finished his first bite of toast. The next twenty minutes of monologue involved his puddlejumper, now in the lab for a short tutorial in Ancient engineering for the newly arrived personnel, a promise of swimming lessons this afternoon from Ronon, and the fact that Katie had asked specifically that John tell Rodney hi.
Which was either a really subtle way of pointing out interest or a malicious reminder that their last date had ended with Rodney rushing to an emergency meeting and forgetting her for three days.
So. Mornings with Rodney, afternoons with Ronon, and evenings with Teyla. The schedule works, in that way that only things completely unplanned and added desperately at the last minute seem to do.
This morning, slight change. Rodney calls over a Marine by dint of pointing and pushes John at him. "Watch him until the staff meeting is over." The meeting will suck, but Rodney will be warmed by the memory of that look of terror as he and Teyla leave and John starts making noise about his skateboard.
The latest return of the Daedalus, as always, sees Elizabeth starching her uniforms more firmly, Teyla fighting more aggressively, Ronon brooding more manfully, and Rodney wondering if Sam's still pissed at him, because dear God, the idiots they're sending to him. The welcome is mercifully brief, but the briefing not so much, with Rodney yelling, Teyla arguing, Ronon glaring, and Elizabeth trying to pretend this is something easy, like Mideast peace negotiations, and not the second time Caldwell's pushed for John's return to Earth and questioned the team's care and feeding of one Lt Colonel John Sheppard.
"He's a *child*," Caldwell says again, like this fact's somehow been lost on them with the drop in height and propensity to climb into air ducts to see where they go. Which is an experience Rodney's not in any hurry to repeat, because apparently, John's stealth training stayed around despite the age differential. "And this is a military--"
"It's not a military operation," Elizabeth interjects calmly. "According to the Pavians, there are three months left before the--before John returns to normal. I don't want to risk John being in another galaxy when the effects dissipate." What none of them are saying, even thinking--the Pavians are human derived, but with key enzyme differences, and John's not exactly baseline human himself. Which hadn't seemed to bother the Pavians, but there are reasons that John's got a scheduled visit to Carson every evening.
Stupid hot blonde priestesses, Rodney thinks resentfully, trying to pretend like he's paying attention to Caldwell's latest monologue on the dangers and risks and what the fuck ever, like they don't live here twenty-four-seven.
"This is not the place for a child" Caldwell says shortly, leaning back in his chair and looking at them all with his usual expression of incipient horror, like a psychiatrist tossed into an asylum as a patient. It's a familiar look for Daedalus personnel, and not one Rodney particularly minds. It separates the stupid from the less stupid.
"It's temporary. And we have no idea what affect leaving will have on him."
The real problem is, they have no idea what exactly John remembers. There's times Rodney recognizes a certain turn of his head, a certain smirk, a choice of words too sophisticated for a child. Offhand memories of missions gone by, a faint frown at the mention of submergible jumpers, tight lips at the word Genii. But mostly, he's just John, distilled and eight, hating bedtime and Athosian green peas, hiding behind curtains and under lab tables when he gets bored, wide-eyed as Rodney introduces him to the infinity of the universe, awed the way Sheppard never could have been.
It's basically the kind of cognitive dissonance that they've all come to expect as part of life in the Pegasus galaxy, and frankly, Rodney's getting a little tired of Caldwell's speeches on the subject.
John catches him outside the labs an annoying hour later, skateboarding by with a cheery wave and a captive Marine following him with a vaguely traumatized expression that melts into sheer relief when he sees Rodney. With a sigh, Rodney catches John on his next pass and nails the skateboard with a foot, a trick of coordination that Rodney's very familiar with. Unfortunately, it doesn't work on the puddlejumper, but Rodney built a remote control for that particular issue.
Holding John a foot off the ground, Rodney nods dismissal and watches in resignation as the Marine beats a hasty retreat.
"What did you do to him?" Rodney asks, setting John down and turning him around. Any Sheppard at any age is a disheveled mess, but he's a clean disheveled mess, which means the babysitting Marines have finally gotten tired of the lack of coffee in their lives when they return John a wreck.
"Went 'round the city." The green eyes go wide and innocent, looking up from beneath his lashes in that way that makes Rodney nervous. "Visited the playground. He doesn't like questions."
"He probably doesn’t have the answers." The new personnel from the Daedalus are waiting in the lab, and Rodney had a sudden impulse to take John on an educational tour of the transporters. On the other side of the city. "What did you ask him? Wait, I don't want to know. I have a meeting, but I expect you to finish--"
The thought is interrupted by a sound like a chainsaw on steel, and John's head snaps around. Before Rodney can think, oh God, and also, oh *fuck*, the lab doors bow before the power of a eight year old ATA throwing a temper tantrum. Inside, Zelenka is leaning into a lab table looking like he'd rather be anywhere else, while a huddle of white backs instantly break to reveal a certain junior sized puddlejumper with a crushed nose, the remote control forgotten on the floor.
"You--you *broke my jumper*," John says breathlessly, voice pitched high enough to break crystal, eyes going liquid and small foot stomping with an impressive amount of force before he pushes past their legs to kneel beside his ship and stroke a shaking hand along the cockpit. When he lifts his head again, the green eyes are narrowed in an expression that's painfully familiar, in that way that looking in the mirror can be familiar. "You are all very, very, very stupid."
Rodney leans into the doorway and tries not to smile goofily as John descends into language that a certain group of babysitting Marines will be answerable for one day in the far future, should John ever choose to use it on less worthy objects.
When the staff starts looking less shocky and more homicidal, though, it's probably best to slow it down. "John."
John tilts his head up in tight-fisted defiance, which is, God help him, only marginally less cute than wide-eyed innocence. "We can fix it when I get done." He spares a second to glare at the assembled Daedalus personnel, then at Zelenka, who really really should have known better than to let them touch *anything* before the traditional crushing of their spirits. "Everyone. Out."
"But *Rodney*--" John starts, big tears starting to slide down each cheek in perfectly symmetrical misery while everyone beats a hasty retreat. Once the door closes behind them, Rodney walks over to spot-check the damage, wondering if he has time to do a quick scan. Structural, mostly, but even a miniature puddlejumper engine has some tricks he'd like to examine himself. "They *broke* it."
Looking down sharply, Rodney takes in the reddening cheeks, eyes bloodshot and swollen, mouth trembling, less artistic tears, and Christ, his nose is running. Oh. "You're really upset."
That's a mistake, because John gives it up then, and apparently they hadn't seen *anything* before when John Sheppard decides to really let go. Rodney finds himself trapped on his ass on the floor with John in his lap, crying hysterically into his shoulder and damp fists clenched in his jacket, deafening one ear and forever destroying his last clean uniform top with more fluid than Rodney ever wants to think of coming out of one small body.
Teyla would know how to comfort him. Ronon would probably tell him stories of how warriors dealt with grief and possibly the finer points of repression. Maybe take him out to kill things with his bare hands or something. Elizabeth would want to discuss his feelings and sneak him the last of the chocolate chip cookies.
Carefully, Rodney slides his arms around John, running a wary hand through his hair and down his back, letting John work himself down into broken sniffles that tear him a little inside, reminding him of eight years old and broken toys, ruined books, voices that told him to get the hell over it already, he was too old for tears.
When John's reduced to wet hiccups, Rodney pulls his head up and looks straight into John's eyes. "Okay, you have work to do."
John pauses, head cocked as he rubs his eyes with one fisted hand. It's unbearably sweet, and Rodney ignores the fact the entire right side of his neck is sickeningly damp. "What?"
"Zelenka's desk, Ancient lock picker. I know you know how to use it. Manifest list is in my desk--and you know how to break into that, so don't try to look innocent. You have an hour. Plumbing is a classic, but if you can make that Ancient funeral dirge play every five minutes, go for it. And if you get bored, retime the lights to go full strength at say, midnight, which is the earliest they can *hope* to get out of the lab tonight." Setting John on his feet, Rodney pulls himself up, every joint protesting from that unexpected drop to the floor, while John stares up at him with wide, adoring eyes. "Be fast, be creative, and most of all, don't get *caught*. If anyone asks, you're lost and terribly upset about it."
He just has time to brace himself before John's usual lightning-quick hug, looking up at the last second with utter worship before skidding to Rodney's office.
An hour later, after crushing the souls of six physicists, three engineers, and a biologist into small pieces for Zelenka to reassemble into something resembling competent human beings, Rodney locks everyone out of his lab and teaches John the basics of Ancient engineering and pretends to ignore John's bright, adoring eyes.