Rodney finds himself re-reading the screen, starting at the beginning and going to the end, flicking back up again, the words puddling together like running water.
When he looks up, he sees Elizabeth watching him with understanding eyes. "No."
Arms folded, Elizabeth's gaze flicks between him and Teyla and Ronon, coming to rest on the wall just behind him, a good diplomat through and through. "I understand--"
"Absolutely nothing, apparently, if what I said hasn't penetrated. No."
Beside him, Rodney can feel Teyla leaning forward. "Are you--certain, Dr. Weir?"
"I'm sure." Leaning back in her chair, she looks at her own screen, eyes wide and a little blank, and Rodney thinks this must be hurting her, but he honestly couldn't give a damn. "The SGC has ordered John to be returned to earth, since his--situation hasn't changed."
Beneath the table, Rodney feels his hands clench into fists, blunt nails digging grooves into his palms. "They haven't given us enough time."
"It's been a week since the deadline passed," Elizabeth says, like this is something he doesn't already know. "Carson's reports are the same. Normal growth and development for a healthy pre-adolescent. No changes. The SGC--"
"And for all we know, six months on whatever the hell that planet was is a year here." Teyla nods agreement from beside him, but her fingers are clenched around the each other, yellow-knuckled, nails digging into her skin hard enough to make him wince. Ronon he doesn't even bother to check--he can feel the man's hostility from here. "Elizabeth--"
"I filed a protest with the SGC with our last transmission," she says, and this time, she looks up. "The Daedalus will bring the answer. But I don't--" She stops short, taking a breath, and Rodney's never seen her do that before. "I don't think it will change their minds."
"He's under your command," Rodney says reasonably. "They can't just--"
"He's still--technically--a member of the military. And they'll use that technicality for de facto custody." Rubbing her forehead, Elizabeth sighs. "I don't even know if I can honestly disagree. He's a child, and if he remains a child--"
"There are children on the mainland," Teyla says, dangerously soft. "John could just as easily be cared for there, until this ends."
"And if it doesn't?"
Teyla doesn't say, every woman in the camp will be fighting for the right of adoption, but she doesn't need to. Rodney rolls his eyes, pushing in before Teyla can get worked up. "That's beside the point, and no, he can't be raised with the Athosians. He's--" Rodney stops, trying to frame the concept. "You--do get that he isn't a earth kid, right? He's--for all practical purposes, he was born here."
Elizabeth shakes her head. "For legal purposes, he's a citizen of the United States--"
"Oh *please*." Staring at her, he wonders how she's missing this. "Elizabeth, he's not--he can't turn on a light switch because he's never had to. He talks to a city that *talks back*. He travels by *puddlejumper* for playdates with aliens on the mainland. He learned to stick fight instead of playing baseball or whatever American kids do in school. Hell, he doesn't even go to *school*. He has about as much in common with Earth as Teyla does." Even less at the genetic level, really.
"Rodney." Elizabeth's fingers twitch on the edge of the table; from here, he can see her knuckles are yellow-white with strain. "Rodney. If he stays a child, he needs a--a home. A family. The SGC isn't unfamiliar with settling children with families associated with the program. He'll have people that understand the situation, that will care for him--"
For a second, Rodney can almost see John, small and wide-eyed and lost in the unfamiliar spaces of a house on Earth with smooth, painted walls and doors that don't open at a thought. "He is home. We're his family."
Elizabeth's head comes up sharply, eyes wide and dark, moving between him and Teyla and Ronon, like this is such a huge surprise. "It's not the same."
"No, it's not. We're better. I'm not arguing this. Make it stop. I don't care how."
Elizabeth's eyes close briefly. "I am trying. But--"
"Then this conversation is over." Standing up, Rodney makes himself breathe, watching as Teyla and Ronon do the same. "And don't tell him any of this nonsense. There's no reason to freak him out about something that's not going to happen."
Elizabeth's mouth narrows into a thin line, and he thinks that maybe she's regretting when she said she'd accede to his and Teyla's and Ronon's decisions regarding John's care. "Very well."
"Good." Slamming out of the room would be terribly, terribly juvenile, but he wants to do it anyway, restraining himself only when Teyla's fingers brush against his arm on their way out.
"He is with the botanists?" she says softly, and Rodney nods, not even surprised when they both follow him to John's playground, where he works on hybrids under the watchful eye of Katie Brown and a Marine medic who glances at them sharply then stands up, pulling Katie by the elbow from John's side and out the door without a word.
Rodney thinks sometimes that nothing is ever secret in this galaxy.
John looks up from his small planter, blooming with Athosian herbs and hybrids, eyebrows knitting together at the three of them standing over him. "What's up, guys?"
Teyla's the first to break, dropping cross-legged beside him, reaching with long fingers to gently touch his face. "Nothing is 'up'. We simply wished to see you."
John blinks up at them, and Rodney watches the green eyes flicker uncertainly, but he goes with it, letting her pull him into her lap and settle back against her chest while Rodney lowers himself to the ground and wishes his knees didn't make those sounds. Ronon coils smoothly beside Teyla in a nauseating display of flexibility, and John gives him a wary glance, but resettles when it doesn't look like Ronon will try to teach him knife fighting or whatever.
"There is a harvest celebration on the mainland tonight," Teyla says gently, and Rodney watches John's eyes light up. "We could go, if you wish." She smiles at John's enthusiastic nod, brushing his hair back, and every time, watching John respond to simple touch, something tightens in Rodney's chest.
"What's the harvest celebration like?" John says, and Rodney thinks of the thousand things he could be doing now, reaching for his headset and setting it to priority channel only, knowing Ronon and Teyla had done the same. The things will always be there, but John's here now, and between the two, there's no contest at all.