two: Christmas edition
four: Ronon by svmadelyn
In retrospect, letting John nag him into watching a movie well after the established bedtime was probably a bad idea. Twenty-two minutes in, John's eyes were already slitting shut, slumping comfortably against Rodney’s arm, and by the time the credits roll, John’s passed out across his lap, one arm hooked firmly around a knee and drooling a small puddle into Rodney’s second to last pair of clean pants.
From the other side of John, Katie gives him a look of amused sympathy as she carefully pries the popcorn from John’s lax fingers.
Thing He Did Not Know--Katie has a serious thing for kids. Which is the *only* reason John hasn't been relocated to the floor, eight years old or not.
"So," he says, looking at the roadblock of John's body between them, like the smallest and most aggravating chaperone in history. Katie grins, passing the bowl of popcorn over John's head and sneaking a pet of dark hair. There's just something about women and John's hair, Rodney thinks resentfully, pretending that Katie's slightly fatuous expression has nothing to do with the fact that John just rolled bonelessly onto his back, head tucked against Rodney’s hip as to evenly distribute drool over every inch of Rodney's clothes that he can reach.
Yes, this was a fantastic idea.
"They're so cute at this age," Katie says, patting John's bare foot, despite the fact he's kicked her at least twice in his sleep. This time, she has the sense to move out of range, shifting back when John's pulled up his legs again with a wet sigh against Rodney's stomach.
Rodney will never look at these clothes again and not remember the sticky feeling of spilled soda, popcorn butter, salt, and John's inability to close his mouth.
"Cute," Rodney agrees blankly, because really? What the hell is she seeing here? "Yeah. So, did you--um. Like the movie?"
Katie nods quickly. "It was great. We should do this more often."
We would, Rodney thinks, trying not to bitter, if you'd, oh, *return messages*. "I mean, other than the laughable premise and--" Katie's smile fades, just a little. "Interesting," he lies frantically. "I liked the--way they--" Oh God, he has to think. "That actress--" Wrong thing.
"It's getting late," Katie says, standing up hastily. Rodney starts to get up, but the weight across his legs keeps him pretty much stationary. "Um. Where is he--does he sleep--" She pauses delicately, but Rodney doesn't need an interpreter for *that* one.
Oh thank God, not a total waste of time after all.
"Oh. No. No. He has his own room." Not his old room--the sheer number of weapons they'd found on the first run through had convinced them all that John would not enter that room again until he reached the age of reason. "I--do you--I need to drop John off, but after--the last Daedalus trip, I--"
"Sure," Katie says eagerly, making up for the fact that there is still popcorn lodged in Rodney’s shoes. Shifting John into a sitting position, Rodney picks him up, John's head resting comfortably on his shoulder, small feet knocking against his thighs, weirdly light. Even as a kid, John doesn't carry a single extra ounce of flesh anywhere.
One arm hooks over his shoulder, and Rodney turns his head to watch sleepy hazel eyes slit open, assess the change of position, then close with a sigh. Over John's head, Rodney sees Katie's soft expression and wonders why in the name of God he'd never imported an Athosian kid for this kind of thing before.
Katie talks about the movie as they navigate the residence corridors, the occasional Marine passing them with a careful grin, but Katie doesn’t seem to notice, so Rodney confines himself to pointed glares.
"It's just so strange to think he's the Colonel," Katie says, but really, it's not. At least, not for anyone whose caught John watching a puddlejumper or charming his way through the entire Athosian population below the age of eighty with huge, gap-toothed smiles and widely innocent eyes.
Luckily, they get to John's room before Rodney can make the mistake of remarking that at any age, John's a small, platonic tease just waiting for a victim.
The door opens to yellow lighted dark, Atlantis' version of a nightlight, a soft glow that drives away shadows and lets the poor kid get to the bathroom without breaking something, like his neck. Crossing an obstacle course of wooden blocks, circuit boards, small metal pieces of indeterminate function, a football, and the beginnings of a robot, Rodney carries John to bed, carefully rolling John onto his stomach, frowning at the still-unmade bed before pulling the blankets carefully up to his hips, pausing for a second to listen to John’s breathing. Slow and steady. Definitely asleep.
An unfortunate incident involving midnight, the last of the soda, and a hectic three hour search of Atlantis to find John perched precariously on a sloping roof, trying to follow a three-legged mainland bird is still pretty fresh in everyone's memories.
A last look shows nothing but a small, dark lump of eight year old boy, sound asleep. With any luck, Rodney thinks optimistically, he'll be like that until morning.
Three glasses of Daedalus wine, a quick trip to the bathroom to get rid of the worst of John-related stains, and his third best chocolate later, and this has turned into probably the best night of this last year.
Katie's pretty and sweet and doesn't mind clothes wet with spit and soda, running her hands up under his shirt with the kind of enthusiasm that bodes well for a really good lay. She also giggles incessantly, but Rodney generously attributes that to the wine. Running his hands down her back, he nips her lip, feeling her melt against him, breath already coming faster, and when he pulls back to look at her, she's flushed pink.
It's a good look on her. And wow, she moves fast, fingers closing on the hem of his shirt and pulling, mouth soft and salty from popcorn, murmuring "God, Rodney," in just the right way. She's light enough to pick up, push up against the wall, taste the line of her throat and the soft skin of her shoulder, long legs wrapping around his waist, and oh God, it's been way too long. His hands keep catching on her clothes, sweat and probably leftover soda, and his heart is beating so loudly he can hear it over the sounds of--
The door opens, spilling brilliant light from the hallway, and Rodney jerks back involuntarily, forgetting that Katie's still wrapped around him. A single stumble, two, and he's on his ass, Katie catching herself on one arm, and he bites his lip when her chin comes down on top of his head. Reaching up, he feels blood right before he tastes it.
"What the *fuck*--" Looking up, he sees a straight-faced Marine carefully staring at the far wall. "Have you lost your--"
"Dr. Weir requires your presence, Dr. McKay," the man says, still staring at the far wall, mouth a perfectly straight line that advertises the fact he is laughing on the inside so *hard*.
Rodney's eyes narrow as Katie struggles off him, jerking her shirt down. "It's the middle of the *night*--"
"It's about Colonel Sheppard, Dr. McKay," the Marine says, and he's not laughing now. Shifting uncomfortably, he finally looks down. "She wants you at the Colonel’s quarters as soon as possible."
"What? Is John okay?" Reaching up, he feels for the earpiece, but his hand encounters nothing but skin. "Where--"
"I--er, I think I'm sitting on it," Katie says apologetically, and Rodney turns to look at her, bright red, hair disheveled, shifting over enough to reach down and pluck it off the floor. From his palm, he can hear the tinny sound of someone--
Is that John?
"What happened?" he asks, scrambling to his feet and jerking the earpiece into place, wincing at the sound of John, straddling the border between hiccups and whimpers. "Was he injured? Did he get out--"
"Dr. Weir asked me to tell you to meet her at the Colonel's room," the Marine answers firmly, stepping back and out the door. Grabbing his discarded shirt, Rodney jerks it over his head, stumbling out into the corridor behind the Marine, then pushing past him. John's voice is getting quieter, but for some reason, that’s not as reassuring as he would have thought.
Keying the radio, Rodney turns the corner. "Elizabeth? I'm on my way. What--"
"Not now, Rodney." The radio cuts off, leaving a hiss of static, and Rodney almost stops, surprised by the curt edge to her voice. Another hall, and he's almost running, a hundred scenarios chasing each other through his mind. The knives they carefully took away--what the hell was Ronon thinking, giving John those for Christmas? Fell on his landmine of a floor. Atlantis let him out of his room without prior authorization.
Skidding to a stop at John's door, he pauses to let it open. For a few long seconds, the damned door doesn't budge. Rodney stares at it, and reluctantly, it pulls open, a brilliantly lit room revealing Elizabeth sitting on the bed, a robe tossed haphazardly over her nightgown, and John curled up small and tight in her arms, head buried against her neck. Lorne's a barely registered presence hovering over them both, in sweatpants and a t-shirt, gun belt girthed incongruously around his waist.
The door snaps shut behind him like an indictment.
For a few seconds, the room is silent except for Elizabeth's voice, murmuring in John's ear as she strokes his hair, down his back, before she looks up. The dark eyes hold his for a searing minute before she touches John's cheek. "John? Rodney's here."
John's still for a moment, then he shakes his head frantically against her neck, arms tightening to what has to be near-strangulation, and something in Rodney's chest tightens. Elizabeth soothes him with slow strokes, then looks back up, mouth a flat, tight line. "Okay, sweetie. I need to talk to Rodney for a minute. Can you go to Lorne?"
For a second, John doesn't move, then he nods slowly, turning enough to extend both arms toward Lorne, who takes him like he's made of glass, voice as soft and careful as Elizabeth's as she gets up, taking her spot on the bed. Jerking her robe closed, Elizabeth comes toward him, reaching out to grab his arm, Atlantis opening instantly and with obvious prejudice, because she doesn’t have the gene, so why the hell is it listening to her anyway?
"Elizabeth--" he says when the doors are closed. The fingers in his arm tighten, reminding him that she's a lot stronger than she looks.
"Don't--" She stops, pulling away, arms crossed across her chest as she paces to the wall, then turns around. "Rodney, I thought you were watching him tonight. Where the hell have you been?"
"My room. We watched a movie, I put him to bed, now what the hell *happened*?"
Elizabeth pauses, flicking him a narrow look before running a careless hand through her hair. "He had a nightmare."
Christ. Rodney can actually feel his blood pressure drop, the knot in his chest loosening so suddenly he feels lightheaded. "I thought it was something *serious*--"
"To an eight year old, it's pretty serious." Jerking around, she stares at the closed door, then looks back at him, shoulders slumping. "Go to bed. We'll talk in the morning when Teyla and Ronon return from the mainland."
Turning, she belts her robe, and the door slides open for her like its greased. "Elizabeth--"
She pauses, hand on the edge of the door. "He needs someone with him for the night," she says, every word as precise as a needle. "We'll talk tomorrow."
Taking an uncertain step, Rodney pauses. "I can--"
"No." Her voice has a flatness he doesn't like. "We've got it under control." She goes back inside, and Rodney sees John's face, dark red and wet, eyes swollen, hands reaching for Elizabeth, as the door shuts between them.
He's reminded uncomfortably of age six and the principal's office, though he can't imagine that Mrs. Dobson had anything on Elizabeth, elbows on her desk, leaning forward with a carefully blank expression that doesn't hide the fact she's pissed.
Rodney tries not to twitch. And fails. Shifting in his chair, he stares at the wall behind Elizabeth's head. "Where are Teyla and Ronon anyway?" he asks, trying not to sound as nervous as he feels. "It's already fifteen after--"
"They wanted to check on John," Elizabeth answers tersely, a pen materializing in her hand, twisting between slim fingers. "They only arrived an hour ago, and they wanted to make sure John was--feeling better."
Rodney shifts again, an uncomfortable suspicion forming in the back of his mind. Before he can find the words to voice it, however, the door slides open, Teyla and Ronon coming in. Teyla takes the seat beside him, Ronon leaning into the wall behind her, arms crossed.
"How's John?" Elizabeth asks, and Rodney watches Teyla's face twist, mouth curving down.
"He is--upset," Teyla says slowly, raising a hand to push back a stray strand of hair. "He will not speak to us."
Rodney frowns, opening his mouth, but a look from Elizabeth shoots him down. Leaning forward a little more, she drops the pen, folding her hands together. "Maybe it would be better if he spent the day with the Marines," she offers carefully. "Just to let him unwind a little. He seemed much calmer when he woke up this morning."
Teyla nods tightly, eyes fixed on the floor, and Ronon mumbles something that could be agreement. No one speaks for a few long seconds. Then Elizabeth sits back, picking up the pen again. "He says he doesn't remember," Elizabeth says, gaze fixed on the pen in her hand. "Is that normal?"
"Yes," Teyla answers, and Rodney frowns, turning in his seat. "He--usually has very little memory of what--he sees." Her voice drops. "I am sorry, Dr. Weir. I should have been here."
"He'll be fine, Teyla. He was just shaken up."
Rodney stares between them. "Okay, wait. What the hell is going on?"
Elizabeth's gaze snaps back to him, making him regret reminding her he's in the room. But. "Rodney--"
"No, I don't get it. Am I missing something huge here? He had a nightmare, and you're all acting like he's narrowly escaped death. What am I missing?"
Elizabeth drops the pen, straightening abruptly. "Rodney--"
Teyla shook her head quickly. "He does not know, Dr. Weir." She pauses, breathing out in a short rush. "Since I care for John at night, it was never--necessary."
"Know *what*?" That tight feeling is back again, almost enough to drown the sudden anger. "What is going *on*?"
"John sometimes dreams of--events. That happened in his life. Things he doesn't seem to--" Teyla stops short. "Things that his change has so far precluded him remembering before."
Rodney sorts through the sentence, trying to figure out what on earth she could be talking about. "Events from--wait." A sickening thought intrudes. "His life. His actual life. The life that we still don’t know if he remembers."
Teyla nods slowly. "Yes."
Oh *fuck*. "And this isn't something you think I should have been told? I don't know, *before* I left him alone for the night?"
Teyla's back straightens like a jackknife. "You said you could monitor him easily by radio. I assumed that would mean that you would keep your radio *on*--"
"I lost it!" he snaps. "Christ, I thought we were dealing with his stealth skills!" Rodney sucks in a breath, anger flaring outward. It's a mistake, but his memory flashes back to John on Elizabeth's lap, tiny and utterly still, and--oh God. Fuck. "He tried to call me, didn't he?"
Elizabeth nods tightly. "He somehow managed to change the channel and get Lorne when he couldn't find you." Leaning back, Elizabeth looks between them all. "How often are these occurring, Teyla? Last time we talked--"
"You told *Elizabeth*?" Rodney turns in his chair, anger bubbling up so fast he couldn't stop himself even if he wanted to. "What the hell else haven't you told me? Is he beheading mice or-or--you know what, I don't even know what to ask."
"I did not wish to worry you," Teyla says flatly. "And your responsibilities have never included his nights." Turning to Dr. Elizabeth, her voice begins to falter. "And they are more frequent, Dr. Weir. We are closing on the fifth month, so perhaps whatever they did to make him regress in age is--"
"Wearing down," Elizabeth finishes with a sigh. "I was wondering." She taps an irregular rhythm on the edge of her desk. "I think we should do as Carson and Lorne suggested and put John on twenty four hour monitoring. And I want twice daily check-ins with Carson. If there are any other changes, I want to know before they become a problem." Sighing, she leans back. "If that's all, we'll conclude--"
"Um, no." Rodney realizes, a little distantly, that his hands are cramping from their grip on the arms of the chair. "Let me go on the record as saying, what the fuck? You cut me out of what's apparently a serious problem, you leave me here without telling me that the eight year old I'm responsible for has debilitating nightmares of--what? Wraith? Genii? Any of the fucking times he almost died? Do you see anything wrong with this picture?"
"If you were paying attention--" Teyla starts hotly, but Rodney's so not in the mood.
"You have *got* to be kidding." Stumbling to his feet, he manages to kick his chair backward, which works for drama, he admits, even if it had been inadvertent. "This is--this is *insane*. How the hell is he going to trust me, trust us--" Stopping short, Rodney has a sickening flash of John's arms tightening around Elizabeth when she said his name. "He thinks I left him there alone." Fucking *radio* on the floor, and he should have keyed the damn PA system, so he could be sure. "I didn't even hear him," Rodney says slowly, a kind of numb horror descending as the full implications sink in. "He thought I was ignoring him."
"Rodney," Elizabeth says, but Rodney flicks a hand at her, turning to the door.
"Where's John?" he asks roughly, jerking it open, surprised to realize his hands are shaking.
"Dr. McKay, he does not wish for our company."
"I have to apologize," Rodney spits, hand aching from his grip on the door, "because I left him alone with whatever piece of our glorious Pegasus adventures decided to drop in for a surprise visit." Taking a deep breath, Rodney half-turns to see Teyla, mouth open to spill more crap, and he so doesn't need this. "With the Marines, with Lorne, probably the playground, right?" Her mouth snaps shut, and after a few seconds, she nods briefly. "Fine. We'll talk later."
Going out into the gate room, Rodney finds the transporter mostly by body memory, barely able to see the concerned looks of the technicians, anger and guilt warring for an equal opportunity to make him sick.
Getting in, he programs the destination and closes his eyes, wondering what in the name of God he can possibly say to John to explain this.
Lorne and two Marines are standing guard, trying to look interested as John rides his skateboard in circles around the room, but even Rodney can see John's heart isn't in it. The speed's off and he's not trying anything that looks *remotely* dangerous, a sure sign of a deeply unhappy John Sheppard.
He knows the second Lorne sees him, straightening abruptly, the Marines staring at him with insultingly obvious dislike, but John's oblivious. Even his hair seems flat, sticking to his skull like a cap. Even from the door, Rodney can see the circles under his eyes, and it hurts, in ways that before John, he'd never known he could feel.
"I've got it," Rodney says, waving a hand at them. John's head snaps up, stumbling uncharacteristically when he stops his skateboard, one small, tanned hand grabbing for the wall. Lorne's eyes flicker to John, pausing for a second, then he nods at the Marines.
"We'll be right outside, John."
Rodney waits until they pass with slow deliberation, their eyes promising dire consequences for leaving underaged lieutenant colonels unattended during nightmares. He'll worry about what horror is in store for him at his next PT session a little later. The horror of right now is enough to occupy all his attention.
John doesn't move from his side of the room, but his back goes straight, which is actually kind of weird, since he can count on one hand the number of times that John's stood that straight for any reason at all.
Well, this is awkward.
"I'm fine," John says finally, kicking off to the far wall in a single smooth motion. "I'm not a baby. It was just a bad dream."
"I didn't hear you," Rodney says, taking a step into the room. John circles around at the corner, keeping the distance of the room between them. "You have to know I wouldn't--"
"I know, Elizabeth told me it was an--an *accident*," John says sullenly, picking up more speed before coming to a sudden stop, flipping the board up with his bare toes. "It's not a big deal."
"Christ, you don't change, no matter what age you are. Would it kill you to just admit you were upset? I'm sorry I wasn't there!"
"And I said I was fine, so okay!" John shouts back, finally turning to face him, green eyes huge and wet. "I'm fine, everything's just. Fine. Okay? So just--just go and--and do your job and whatever and talk to Katie and I don't *care*." The board clatters back to the floor, startling them both, and John turns angrily on his heel, stomping to the swings, dropping in a seat, looking smaller and more miserable than any kid should.
Rodney admits that he sucks with kids. They're not reasonable, they're not sane, they don't conform to any acceptable mode of behavior, and they're scarily willing to say and do things that adults know better than to even *try* to pull.
But John Sheppard's not that much of a mystery, not really, and at any age, John sulks exactly the same way, with this edge of genuine baffled hurt that Rodney can't explain but recognizes for what it is. Crossing the small playground, he comes to a stop, crouching close enough to see John's face, but far enough to avoid those small, but surprisingly strong feet.
"John," he says, thinking of the myriad ways John's taught him about apologies; chocolate and bootleg porn after Chaya, second desserts after an argument, anime and first run movies from the SGC's wonderful black market after Arcturus. "John, look at me. I'm--I'm sorry that I wasn't there. Will you stop sulking now? You know I would have been there if I--"
"Hadn't been busy," John says bitterly, voice edged in a way surprisingly familiar, surprisingly adult. Twisting his head up, John stares at him with wet, reddened eyes and a tight mouth. "I get it, okay? And it wasn't--"
"It was a big deal," Rodney says, feeling his calves starting to hurt from his position. Giving up, he sits down, deciding that if John starts using that swing as a lethal weapon, well, he'll be that much closer to the ground. "It was a big deal and I should have been there. And it won't happen again."
John stubbornly fixes his eyes on the padded ground again, hands tightening on the swing rope.
"Dr. McKay," his radio suddenly cuts in, and John's head snaps up again. Holding John's eyes, Rodney keys it. "Dr. McKay, we need--"
"Busy now, later," he snaps, then pulls it off, frowning at the earpiece that started this whole mess in the first place. "You'd think they could give me *five minutes*," he murmurs, keying it to emergency before starting to slip it back into place.
John shifts off the swing, small hand reaching out imperiously. "Give it to me."
Rodney looks at him suspiciously. "Are you going to break it?"
John gets a look on his face that reminds Rodney of every single time he's had to deal with stupid, incompetent people, and every discussion he's ever had with Kavanagh. The fingers snap impatiently, and Rodney wonders if Ronon is right; maybe John really is spending too much time with him. Handing over the radio, he watches John staring at it, making minute adjustments to the settings, settling onto the ground more comfortably as he studies it.
"What are you--" An impatient handwave is his only answer. "Okay, that's annoying. Give it back."
"Just a second." John does something else, then hands it back, one eyebrow raising at Rodney's suspicious look. "I didn't break it. I--when I was trying to get someone, I--um, got Lorne. Just Lorne." He pauses uncomfortably, then shrugs. "So right now, only the command team can get through. And Radek," he adds, leaning back on both hands. "Not everyone who knows the emergency codes."
Rodney flips the radio, staring at the impossible-to-see keys. "How did you--"
"Asked," John says, eyebrows drawing together.
John shifts uncomfortably. "I--um, accessed the database. It showed me."
Rodney thinks of the massive, almost-impossible-to-search database with a faint sense of nauseated wonder. "Showed you?"
John shrugs, staring down at his hands. "I--needed to get someone. It showed me how." John's shoulders droop a little. "I can--I can show you." Digging both hands into the ground, John lifts his head. "I can program Katie in, too. You know. So she can, um, contact you if she--wants you for something."
It's cute, and a little disturbing, and scarily John Sheppard. Rodney puts the earpiece back on, watching John stare at the ground.
"So," he says, then deflates, because what the hell now? "Right. Come on, we're running late. Your theatrics put us hours behind."
John frowns, straightening. "Late?"
"We're never going to get the jumper fixed if you waste all your time practicing new and interesting ways to see how you can break your neck with your skateboard. So come on." Standing up, Rodney watches John crane his neck to stare up at him, then he scrambles to his feet, running to grab his board before coming back. Taking off the earpiece, Rodney hands it to John. "And since you seem to be our resident expert, fix this. I want you to add someone."
John takes it warily with his free hand, turning it between his fingers. "I need Katie's comm signature," he says slowly, dropping his board to step on it and push off in a slow motion glide.
The doors open instantly, and Rodney tries not to look smug at Lorne's startled expression. He fails, but he really doesn't care. "I'll take him for the morning, Major," Rodney says airily, walking by them without pausing. "Tell Dr. Weir we'll be in my lab."
John fiddles with the controls, frowning slightly, and Rodney reaches out, catching his wrist so he can't get too far ahead. Long corridors are John's weakness.
"Not Katie," Rodney tells John patiently as they make the first corner. They can probably finish the structural damage today. Maybe a test run by afternoon, assuming no one attacks Atlantis and Radek keeps the new personnel from blowing up the city. It's possible. John slows, giving him a quizzical look that melts into something entirely different with his next words. "Just you."