Thanks to svmadelyn and thepouncer for beta, amireal and lierdumoa for prereading and happy noises.
Earlier parts can be found here.
Teacher's Pet 9
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."
Rodney narrowly avoids reaching across the desk to break Elizabeth's laptop. "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 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 an 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 looks away, eyes on the screen. "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'd acceded 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, playing under the watchful eye of Katie Brown and a Marine medic. One glance up, and both are on their feet, murmuring their goodbyes to John before leaving them alone with John.
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 John 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. Stupid fucking dreams.
"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.
John's still unsure around Ronon, but there's nothing to do but let Ronon sort it out, leaving the two of them for the remainder of the afternoon while Rodney goes back to the labs and ignores the fifty thousand questions of where he's been and why he didn't leave his radio on.
Zelenka doesn't ask, though, and Rodney sees the unhappy eyes meet his for a second over a laptop, the sure knowledge that everyone knows what happened in that room this morning.
The afternoon passes uneventfully, and Rodney runs several successful simulations and develops a new theory of subatomic energy that weeks later, he'll read in unwilling surprise, because come nightfall, he won't remember a damn thing he did that day. Teyla and Ronon take John to the mainland for the evening to play with his friends while Rodney ignores Elizabeth's tight face and Zelenka's worried gaze, finding a balcony off the residence quarters where more nights than he can count, he would find Sheppard watching the stars.
Rodney closes his eyes against the smell of the surf. "They can't take him," he says, and it's almost not a lie. "Earth will never--it can't ever--" He loses the words to the breeze, fumbling through the basic concept of it--a world without John Sheppard. "They can't."
"It may be out of our hands." She lowers herself to her elbows on the rail beside him, staring into the darkness. "I don't like it any more than you do."
"Needs a real family," he snorts, and from the corner of his eye, he catches her brief smile as she ducks her head. "His birthday's coming up."
Elizabeth's shoulder bumps his. "What did you build him this time? His own Ancient city?"
It's almost frightening how possible that would be. Rodney shakes his head, watching the water far below. "He won't touch his jumper," Rodney hears himself say, then bites down. "This is John Sheppard. Who doesn't want to fly. I mean--he wants to. Christ, does he want to. He just--doesn't."
"He's also a child," Elizabeth says gently, and Rodney waves it away.
"He's still John." Leaning into the balcony, Rodney shakes his head. "It's like all the worst of it. He dreams about Wraith and his time in the war and everything that went wrong here, but he can't remember--" Rodney stops, frowning. "Huh."
Elizabeth's quiet--she knows him too well as he stops, replaying it slowly. "Carson said the same thing. He's getting all the--I mean, what kid could see what we do daily and not be terrified of it?" Straightening, Rodney turns to see Elizabeth watching him. "The regression was to learn something, she said."
"Yeah." Something's trying to push its way to the front of his brain. "So the question is, what did she think turning him into a child and then inflicting his adult memories on him would *do*? What would that teach him?"
Elizabeth's mouth flattens as he watches realization spread over her features. "You don’t seriously think--"
"I don't *know*. But what the hell kind of lesson can it be? Why the hell would she bother to change the military leader of Atlantis--"
"How did she know he was--oh." Elizabeth quickly looks away, and Rodney tries not to flush. "Well, it's not a secret," she says neutrally, and Rodney wonders if this was how Sheppard felt after Chaya and offers up a quiet mental apology for the month of silence after. "Rodney, it's not your fault."
He brushes it aside. "Beside the point. Maybe it wasn't random. Maybe she--I don't know, had a reason besides being an interfering alien. We don't *know* and we need to find out."
"You want to go back to the planet." Rodney gives her a look. "And I'll say what I said the first time you asked. If she could do that to one of us--"
"She could have done it to all of us the first time," Rodney says harshly. "She didn't. Look, we have two choices here. We can wait and wait and see if Caldwell comes back with good news--and we both know he won't--and you'll lose two members of the Atlantis expedition, or you can let my team go back and find out how we can fix this."
A hand on his shoulder stops him short, and he stares into Elizabeth's wide eyes. "Two?"
Rodney licks his lips. "Yeah." Taking a breath, Rodney makes himself look at her. "Pending the final status of John Sheppard. If it--if they send him back, I'm going with him."
A few hours earlier, Rodney opened up his laptop and horrified himself by logging into the open network and pulling up the pictures Simpson and Elizabeth had uploaded from Christmas, from the mainland celebrations, staring at John in all of his hyper eight year old glory, at the team gathered around him, then flipping through until he found the one he was looking for.
Eight months ago, two months before Sheppard became John, their team had gone to the Athosian village for Jinto's birthday. Sheppard had been in shorts and a t-shirt that Rodney hadn't even known he owned, sitting in the sand with the surf only feet away, surrounded by children building a sand castle. Staring at the picture, Rodney remembered the night after, Sheppard draped across a blanket with his head in Teyla's lap, lazy and amused as the other Athosians in equal states of intoxication taught them traditional Athosian drinking songs and adding his own.
Rodney hoards his memories in small containers organized by date and type--Wraith, here and here, disasters, here, team, over here. But there's a separate place for John Sheppard, adult and child, a space that Rodney never knew he'd created until Sheppard was gone and John appeared in his life, a strange alien presence that bore the name and personality of his team leader.
And Rodney thought of Sheppard, of John, left on earth to an uncaring bureaucracy that thought first of secrecy, of the way they'd file him away with a thousand other Gate mistakes and problems.
Atlantis would become at best a child's imagination, or at worst, a lie he'd be taunted for, punished for, sent into a world that he could barely remember. He'd be written off, *forgotten*, and Rodney had found the words so fast he hadn't even known he'd decided, hours ago, days ago, when he'd first realized that Sheppard might not come back.
He'd thought of Landry and the favors he was still owed, Sam Carter and Jack O'Neill, the ones who might understand best. He imagined taking John to his sister for a while, letting him acclimatize to Earth, teaching him to blend into a world that would be as alien to John as the Pegasus galaxy was to them. Find him a school, or hey, he's heard good things about homeschooling, why the hell not?
He could, he'd realized, fingers numbing as he typed. Sam would help him, he knew, and the SGC would be just as happy to resolve the problem so easily. He *knew* John, knew the mind that lived behind those eyes, all the things John could be, how he could--
He could do this, and it wouldn't be hard at all.
"Resign," Elizabeth says, and in her voice he hears all the reasons he shouldn't. He just doesn't care.
"Zelenka can take over as Chief Science Officer," Rodney says, speaking quickly. "Caldwell's taking over the military anyway, and let's just say we wouldn't get along. We can take the Daedalus back to Earth this next trip, get all the paperwork settled while--"
"Rodney." Her voice shakes.
Taking a deep breath, Rodney holds her eyes. "I'm not leaving him." Pulling away, he glances between her still body and the door. "I'd better--I have some simulations to check."
"Rodney, have you--have you thought--"
"I don't trust them," he hears himself say, voice hardening. "I don't trust what they'll do when they have him. What they'll tell him. He's lost everything else. He'll lose his home. He doesn't deserve--he doesn't deserve to lose his family, too."
Elizabeth nods. "And you?"
"I lost my best friend," he says slowly, testing the words. Yes. Sheppard had been. "I shouldn't--I don't think I can lose him again."
The regression was to *learn something*, and Rodney goes to bed thinking about it, wakes up with it still circling in his head. John's asleep in Teyla's quarters when he drops by, pre-dawn gloom soaking every corridor in shades of grey, indecent to be up this early, but Teyla's still awake, eyes dark and unhappy as she listens.
"I don't--" she stops, frowning. "Are you certain, Dr. McKay?"
"No." He's not certain of anything right now, but this is as close as he can come. "Yeah. I'll--" He stops, wanting to apologize, knowing he doesn't need to. The resignation letter is on his laptop, waiting for the arrival of the Daedalus. "He won't forget--anything. Not Atlantis, not--not you or Ronon or anyone. I promise."
Her eyes travel to John, tucked beneath patterned Athosian weave, small hand resting where her body had been. "He is sleeping better," she says, her voice soft. Reaching out, her hand hovers over the dark hair, then pulls away. "He wakes more rested. He--"
"Won't let the Marines near him." He gets the feeling that they blame Rodney, and the truth is, Rodney completely underestimated the sheer power of military disapproval before now. Because granted, they can't rewire the city and play dirty tricks with Ancient tech, but they can stare at him meaningfully while fondling far too many high-caliber weapons. And Rodney doesn't think the fact that every time he goes to the mess without John, his food is weirdly cold and possibly soaked in a salt bath beforehand is a coincidence.
He could swear Corporal Aster was watching him while slicing up oranges yesterday.
And he won't even think about the last time he went to the gun range to practice without Lorne, because the sheer hostility focused on him had killed his aim.
Even Lorne gives him looks that are starting to make him nervous. While the average Marine doesn't scare Rodney all that much (usually), Lorne has Sheppard's disturbing tendency to look harmless and be anything but.
"Do you think it was deliberate?" Teyla says, slamming him out of uncomfortable visions of waking up tied up in the armory while a battalion demands fair access to John, and there's no way that can end well.
"What?" Something tries to flicker on in his head, like those breathless seconds before a breakthrough, inspiration hovering above the edge of reason..
Teyla draws an absent pattern on the blanket, looking uncertain. "It may seem foolish, but the focus is so specific. The things that make him a warrior are shown only in a negative light, only those things that led to injury, to what he might see as failure. He doesn't--he remembers Kolya's invasion, remembers other times in his past--" Afghanistan, Rodney supplies, thinking of the records that he now has clearance to access, "--where he was forced into combat, but he doesn't seem to remember anything--anything other than those things."
"Negative emotions leave a strong residue in memory. It's natural that if he was going to have bleedover, it would be the strongest--," Rodney frowns. "The jumper."
Her eyes flicker up. "What?"
Rodney tries to catch it again, but the thought slides just out of reach. "He won't get in the minijumper," he says, and Teyla's eyebrows draw together. "It doesn't have the mental interface--on that scale, it seemed pointless, but--"
"And because we weren't sure what it would do to a kid's head. If it would--" It's just *there*, close enough to touch. "He loves to fly, but we practically had to hold him down in the jumper to keep him away."
Rodney stands up, shaking his head. "Look, bring him by the jumper bay tomorrow evening? Tell him we're working on something there all day if he wonders why I can't do my afternoon with him."
Teyla frowns, but after a few seconds, she nods her compliance, and Rodney accepts the touch of her forehead before he leaves, emerging into the hall with a glance back to see her sitting on the bed, face bathed in shadows, watching John sleep. Before the door shuts, he sees her hand rest gently on his head, and Rodney thinks what it will do to her, to Ronon, if they lose him now, after all this time.
The echo of hurt surprises him, following him to his room, through a shower that's too hot and too hard, to a quiet bed in a room with no John snoring inches away.
It's a long time before he gets back to sleep.
John warily enters the jumper bay, abandoned by Teyla as quickly as she can manage, before he can voice yet another objection, if his expression is anything to go by. It's one of the less-than-explicable places that John's refused to enter anymore, along with the Marine barracks, the armory, the training rooms, locking himself into the labs whenever he can, bent over a laptop like it can chase his past away.
He lingers at the door, frowning at it for a second, and Rodney realizes he's trying to open it. "John," he calls, watching John turn abruptly to look at him, eyes wide. "Get over here."
John hesitates, then slowly starts to cross the room, eyes flickering to take in the jumpers in their slots, the wide ceiling above them, anything but Rodney waiting at the back of the jumper. "Rodney," he says, sounding so achingly like Colonel Sheppard that Rodney's chest tightens, "what are--"
"Just get in here."
John steps up the platform, and even his forced wariness can't hide the eagerness, every time--that sudden, surprised pleasure in the feel of the jumper, reaching for him like it had the first time, as the lights Rodney deliberately left off flare around them. When John passes him, he reaches out and closes the back hatch.
John turns abruptly. "What are you--"
"An exercise." John's eyes flicker around the confined space, and from here, Rodney can see the way his hands have begun to tremble, fisted at his sides, green eyes huge, pupils wide. Fear response.
They hadn't done that to him. He sure as fuck hadn't been like this before. That left-- "Do you know what Pavlov's dog is?"
John blinks back the fear. "Conditioned response," John snaps out, then blinks.
"What she did to you affected your episodic memory," Rodney says. "Not what you've learned. Do you know why?"
John doesn't move. "I don't understand--"
Rodney shakes his head, moving by John to the pilot's seat. Touching his radio, he takes a breath. "Puddlejumper one, clear for departure."
"Where are you taking me?" John says, voice shrill. "I want Teyla. I want Ronon--"
"You've been treating them like shit for two weeks," Rodney says sharply, and hates himself when something cracks in the wide hazel eyes. He could have slapped John and hurt him less.
"I--they want--" John stops, mouth going tight. "Open the door, Rodney."
"*Jumper one, you're clear for take-off*," and it's Elizabeth's voice. Teyla must have told her. God knows what, since it's not like he has any *clue* what the fuck he's doing. "*Good flying*."
"Yeah, when his snotnose highness gets over his tantrum, I'm hoping for that too. McKay out." Flicking his radio off, Rodney accesses the flight controls, breath stuttering a little at the feel of the interface. It's been too long since the last time he flew.
"Rodney, I want out," John says, voice dropping to dangerous child-levels of anger. Rodney vividly remembers John's last temper tantrum.
Rodney orders the roof to open, slowly taking her up, watching as light spills around their shadow on the floor, dark gold of an evening sun. "Sit down, John."
"Stop this damn jumper, McKay!"
It's pitch perfect, for all that it's preadolescent, because no one had ever pushed Sheppard to actual rage the way that Rodney could. "You're not my team leader, John. You can't give orders anymore. So sit the fuck down and enjoy the flight." Rodney tries to pretend he's fine with being the primary pilot, but he's anything but. He almost never flies without Sheppard there, back-up and living, breathing talisman against failure. "Now--"
"Where are we going?" John says, voice closer. Rodney can feel a small hand close over the back of his chair.
"Just a nice, relaxing flight." There, almost clear of the bay. Rodney stares at the readings, feeling slightly blank. It's been months since he flew the jumper; months since the last lesson with John; months since he could read the diagnostic and control screens as quickly and easily as schematics. Flying a jumper isn't like riding a bicycle--you can forget if it's not what you do, what you are, and no matter how much he loves this, it's not his passion. "And trying not to crash."
John's fingers tighten again as Rodney gets atmosphere, the dark indigo of the sky opening wide around them, and Rodney imagines for a second that Sheppard's here, relaxed and trusting and pretending not to watch except he does, every time. The comfort of knowing that, always lodged in the back of his mind, that Sheppard is right *there*, guiding voice and guiding hands, the freedom to learn without the terror of dying if he fails.
And really, these aren't thoughts he needs to be having when he's trying to keep the jumper in the air.
"What are you doing?" John says, and Rodney can see him sitting down in the copilot's seat, unhappy and uncomfortable in a way that's so forced that Rodney can't believe no one else has seen it, that he hadn't seen it himself. "I don't--I'm supposed to work on--"
"Shut up," Rodney says. "Long term memory--semantic. We--I--didn't get it. All she took from you was the memory of who you used to be, not who you are." Rodney flattens his hands on the control panel, pulling up screens to study direction and trajectory, the translation of three-dimensional space into a flat two-dimensional image. "She's making you want to forget the rest."
John's still by his side. "I don't understand--"
"She--" Rodney stops, because it sounds so fucking *nuts*. "Whoever she was, whatever she was--she wanted this. This is what she wanted you to learn. How to hate what you are."
John doesn't answer. Rodney risks a look, but the small face is closed off, eyes flat and sightless.
Rodney struggles for a second. "John, you're not actually an eight year old kid, though you play the part really well. So well that you don't know--you don't even know how much more you are. You forgot, and we forgot along with you."
Rodney waits for a moment, orienting their position with painful slowness, remembering Sheppard on these controls, the easy way he moved his hands, eyes seeing a universe that Rodney never could. God, it's been too long, and Rodney forgot, too, that their John was Sheppard, too, and maybe this is their fault, willing to keep the illusion that they weren't the same person at all.
"I want to go home," John says, finally, voice hard, shaking close beneath the surface. "Take us--I want to go back. I want--"
"You want to forget. About this." He's almost--not quite, but almost--getting it, feeling it like Sheppard taught him to. "John, what you remember, it's not everything. It's not even close to everything."
John's set at his most stubborn, but Rodney can see the fine tremors running through his body, the way his eyes drag to the screen, the copilot's interface, small fingers twitching to touch, complete the connection that began a new lifetime ago.
"John, listen to me." Achieving a fairly easy course, Rodney sets autopilot and turns in his seat. "When this started, we didn't know what telling you would do to you. And we waited too long, we waited until we had to, until--" Rodney stops the words when John scrunches up further, looking more miserable than any child ever should. "John. Please. You have to listen to me. You have to--."
John pulls up his knees, looping his arms around them, hands clasped white-knuckled. To keep from touching the interface, maybe, or to keep from leaping at Rodney and unleashing eight years old worth of temper tantrum. "I don't want to talk about it. I don't want to *think*--" he stops short, breathing jaggedly. Rodney wonders what he saw.
"Is it every time?" Rodney says softly, and John's head jerks up. "Getting in the jumper? It makes you remember?"
John's eyes widen, and after a few seconds, he nods. His arms tighten, then he shakes his head, chin slowly coming to rest on his knees. "Everything--the sticks, shooting with Lorne…." he stops short, eyes flickering down. "When I stopped--"
"The dreams stopped."
John stares at him. "Yeah."
Rodney breathes out. "This--this here, in this space--this is what she wanted you to forget. She--whatever the *fuck* she thought she was doing--she had to make you forget this." Rodney forces himself not to reach across the space between them, *jerk* John closer, make him understand. "If you give up everything else, you give up this, too. Do you understand."
John blinks, and Rodney wonders just how stupid this is. "Come here."
For a second, Rodney can see John stop, months of conditioning they hadn't even fucking *noticed*, and how sick is that? Months and one death before John finally got the connection they hadn't made. And for a horrified second, he thinks John will say no.
"John." Even to himself, his voice sounds shaken. "I need you to trust me. Whatever--whatever she's done, whatever you remember--it's nothing, *nothing* to what you are. It's part of it, but it's not all of it." John doesn't move. "John, you have to trust me, trust us--John, look at me, I promised you it would be okay. It will be. It will be okay, but you have to, you *have to*--"
Slowly, John uncurls, feet sliding to the floor. Even more slowly, he stands up, eyes fixed on Rodney's, and Rodney forces himself to move slowly, standing up and stepping away from the chair, guiding John to sit down, taking John's hands to stretch them over the console as Sheppard had taught him so long ago. Reaching over, he disengages autopilot.
John's eyes go wide and blank as the interface closes around him for the first time.
The screen seems to go still for a second, then menus come up--diagnostics and reports, measurements and speed gauges, John's eyes flickering between them, and Rodney remembers the first time John walked into a jumper, then the first time he taught Rodney how to touch the controls, gentle, experienced hands moving over his with old expertise, easy friendship, and the ship moves like it doesn't for anyone else. Rodney can feel the difference in every muscle as John's small mouth curves up in a smirk as old as the man that Rodney had explored the galaxy with. The sheer joy John takes in flight, always takes in flight. The one place in John that no one should ever be allowed to touch.
He finds the copilot's seat by dint of stumbling into it, feeling dizzy and strangely lightheaded, and John might be in the cockpit, but his mind is in space, fingers stroking over as he tilts his head back, and Rodney watches atmosphere thin around them, and every time, he catches his breath when they break free, achieving orbit with Atlantis below them, huge and blue and breathtaking.
"Rodney," and in his voice, Rodney hears something new, "Rodney, tell me who he--who I am?"
"A soldier. A pilot. The military leader of Atlantis." Rodney lets his eyes close for a second, pulling up Sheppard, slumping and amused at the conference room table, piloting a jumper, stepping onto an alien world, alive with wonder at every place they explored, always surprised that the universe was so damned big. "You lead a gate team and we search for ZPMs for the city. I'll pull your personnel file. I locked it up after your last adventure in hacking. You can see--"
"No." John's hands still on the controls--when he looks at Rodney, his eyes are incandescent. "No. You. Tell me who I *am*. Who you--" John's voice falters, face crumpling. "Tell me who you see when you look--when you see me."
Oh. Rodney opens his eyes, letting the two images blur, dissolving a separation that never should have existed. "My team leader. The guy who taught me to shoot a gun." John's eyes darken. "The man I trust with my life. The best friend I've ever had."
John doesn't seem to breathe for a second, studying Rodney like a flightplan. Then the dark head nods once, and he slumps back in the seat, eyes closing briefly. "Okay." After a second, he looks at Rodney. "Can we go home now?"
Rodney nods as John's hands move confidentally over the panel. "Yeah. Let's go."
John sleeps like the dead that night, with Rodney awake, unable to just roll the fuck over--every drift ends with a sudden, inexplicable certainty John is crying through a nightmare, but the kid sleeps disgustingly soundly, snuffling into his pillow when he rolls over.
So Rodney feels like hell when he gets up to Teyla and Ronon, bright and early at his door.
"I hate you," he says, but Teyla gives him coffee and Ronon gives him a muffin, both pretending they are waiting for him to invite them in before giving up and pushing past him as John sits up, stretching with revolting child-drowsiness and looking up at them with hugely liquid eyes.
No one, Rodney thinks resentfully, should look that cute this early in the morning.
"Hey," John says, reaching for Teyla artlessly, and weakening, she picks him up, sitting on the edge of the bed to look at him and ask about his night. Ronon hovers just at the door, still clutching a plate of muffins; more than John needs, Rodney thinks bitterly as John tilts his head back and stares at the plate with something like worship.
Or not. Both arms reach out, fingers opening and shutting imperiously; eight or not, John hasn't lost his knack for giving an order. Slowly, Ronon sits down beside Teyla, and John shifts laps, getting the plate on his knee and giving Ronon a huge smile. "You brought *food*," he says, stuffing a muffin in his mouth whole--Rodney would have reprimanded, but a horrible something is tightening his chest as John leans trustingly into Ronon's shoulder and tilts his head farther back. "Can we go running before we go see Carson?"
Ronon ruffles his hair with a hand that's not perfectly steady. "Yeah."
Rodney meets them in the infirmary, showered and with his fourth cup of coffee. The universe sucks. Everything sucks.
The fact that Carson is staring at John like he just started developing into an iratus bug--again!--wakes Rodney up better than coffee.
"Carson?" he says, as John eats another muffin, feet kicking idly at Carson, who for once doesn't seem to notice incipient bruising. . "Carson, what--"
"I--don’t know," Carson says, then swats absently at John. "Stop that laddie, or no candy for you today. Teyla, Ronon, Rodney--my office, please." Looking flustered, he picks up his laptop, clutching it like a lifeline while waving to a nurse. "Run them all again, please."
"Can I get a second candy?" John yells after them. The nurse makes soothing, enslaved sounds that probably mean yes, and Rodney takes one more look at John, frowning as the nurse takes out a needle, bare ankles and feet still swinging.
"Hey, where are his shoes?" Rodney hears himself say, then the door closes. Carson falls into his chair, staring at the screen of his laptop like it has every answer to every question in the universe. "And--Carson? What is it? What's wrong with John?"
Carson blinks slowly, like he forgot they were in the room. From behind him, Rodney can hear Ronon's soft growl, and feels like echoing it. "Carson! What is--"
"He's showing something new," Carson says, and still blinking, turns the screen around. Lines and bars. Nothing useful.
"Carson, I swear--"
"Rodney, he's--grown an inch."
Rodney blinks. "He's grown. He's a kid. They *do that*. What the hell--"
"No." Carson starts doing arcane things with the keys that make Rodney's head hurt. "No, they don't grow an inch in one day. This--hormone production is up. It's--" He stops, staring. "This isn't even *possible*."
Rodney looks at Teyla, sees the dawning understanding on her face, on Ronon's, makes himself stare at Carson's graphs--charting John over six long months, no variation, no change, and the sudden spike-- "Oh," he says, voice blank. Teyla's hand closes over his, tight enough to grate bone against bone. He doesn't care.
"All the associated characteristics of a growth spurt," Carson says, looking a great deal like he did the day they brought John to him for the first time. "Changes in weight, physical development, pre-pubescent hormone shifts--" Carson trickles off, staring at the screen like it might change. "He's--there's no explanation. He's just--"
"Right." Rodney says numbly. Something in his hand cracks loudly. He ignores it. "He's--John's growing up."