Codes: Rodney McKay, John Sheppard, Teyla Emmagen, Ronon Dex
Summary: Puberty sucks.
Author Notes: So. Yes. It's been a while. Perhaps a very long while.
All earlier stories can be found here.
miss_porcupine, you can post the next one whenever you are ready. And that you've had done for like, over a *year* while I dithered.
Rodney's not sure what about this moment in the lab is causing the greater mental dissonance: John Sheppard in sweats now officially three inches too small, or John Sheppard making a convincing argument to restart Janus' research because in his words, "Coolest flight *ever*."
"I don't even know where to start," Rodney says slowly, averting his eyes from tanned ankles and trying to not notice that the top of John's head now reaches Rodney's nose. "One--no. Two, hell no. Three--did you not see the dangers as outlined in Star Trek? Four--we don't even have all his data!"
Four's the actual reason; Rodney's still not come to terms with the fact that not only did the Atlanteans delete it, they also apparently got rid of a lot of the preliminary theory related to it, like some kind of artificial academic hobbling. It's not that Rodney couldn't recreate it, given time and space and a small plantation of Columbian at his fingertips; it's just such a *waste*.
But on one hand--Rodney recreating time travel: Nobel prize, new frontiers to science. John wants to invent it to--God help them all--*see the first man land on the moon*.
John stares at him from wide, twelve-thirteenish-or-so-God-this-is-con
Rodney slow-blinks his utter bewilderment. "Go do something. Solve a millennium problem. Eat a burger. Chase girls."
Not that he needs to. John's last trip to the mainland reminded Rodney vaguely of a Discovery Channel special: one lone antelope (John) and many, many hungry cheetahs (aforementioned women). John's bewilderment had been painfully familiar, so Rodney can't put it up to age, and the obliviousness almost frightening. There's a fairly good chance John could lose his virginity and not even know it, by sheer brute absentmindedness.
This virginity, anyway.
That reminds him--"John, how was your run with Ronon?"
John doesn't flush, stammer, or run away, all very bad signs. Blinking, he tilts his head. "Weird."
Rodney fights not to close his eyes and quickly change the subject. This is for his own good. This is for his *own good*. "How so?"
Scratching absently at the back of his neck, John goes back to his laptop, climbing on the stool a little awkwardly; he's still compensating for that last growth spurt. "We were running and went by--this fountain thing? And we stopped for water. He said that the water was pure and should always remain so, and I asked if it was okay if I put my waterbottle in it to fill it up and he said--um." John screws up his face in thought. "He said that I should remind myself of pure water when I feel like--" John stops, shaking his head. "Like doing things that might make the water dirty."
Rodney's not even sure how to put that one together. "And then?"
"And I should ask you about it." John shakes his head. "I know that was supposed to be a metaphor, but I really have no idea what he was talking about."
That makes two of them. Rodney stares at the white board. "I'll be right back."
At least Teyla looks equally appalled. "You compared sex to *dirty water*?"
Ronon gives them a narrow look from the safety of the balcony and declines to answer. So basically, they're two for two on the 'explain sex to John' thing, and it has to say something that this is *still* an improvement over Elizabeth and her laptop presentation. John came out talking about the power of reason over instinct and enlightened societies regarding equality as the most important aspect of adolescent development. Rodney honestly does not want to know.
This just proves a point that's been pretty self-evident all along: they all suck.
"Maybe his memory will return before--" but Teyla stops there, mouth tightening when she remembers that day on the mainland. Yeah, no.
Dropping on one of Teyla's meditation rugs, Rodney tries to think. "Look. We all signed up for it. This is our *job*. Do you want him picking it up on the street--er, the plains?" Or possibly one of the labs; Rodney gives it three weeks before John no longer physically appears to be jailbait and he knows for a fact someone is keeping a spreadsheet on John's accelerated growth curve. Rodney's enlightened and self-aware and knows that teenagers have sex all the time. He also knows that he'll have to kill whoever it is that relieves John of that pesky virginity.
Teyla sits beside him as Ronon comes back in, still looking mutinous. "He's very--mature for his age. Surely he will work it out for himself."
Rodney glares at her. "That's what we're trying to *avoid*."
Now granted--in almost three years, Sheppard only seemed to get hot for Ancients or the closest equivalent, but… "God," Rodney says, the full horror of the situation dawning. "We're going to give him some kind of sexual dysfunction. And a fear of water."
Ronon stares at him with the threat of many, many stick beatings in his future; Rodney doesn't care. Teyla bites her lip in worry, like she, too, is wondering how in the name of God people do this. "Okay. Just--" Dammit. "I'll do it."
Strangely, Teyla doesn't look reassured. "Dr. McKay," she says slowly, enunciating every syllable in a way that makes him deeply nervous, "you expressed uncertainty that you would be comfortable--discussing this with him."
Yes, and if Teyla gives him one more combination penetrative/sympathetic look, he's going to do something to her quarters she will deeply regret. "We're out of options, unless we want the oops, pregnant Athosian method to be John's introduction to sex," Rodney says viciously. Teyla's eyes narrow, but Rodney's on a roll. "Look, I'll get a few books, tell him to read and ask questions. That should cover it."
Rodney can't see how this could possibly go wrong.
The problem is, John's attitude toward his sudden and rapid puberty is along the lines of denial, denial, denial.
And more denial.
As they half-expected, half-feared, John isn't growing so much as going through a *metamorphosis*, and if teenage boys thought it hit fast and hard, they had nothing on the twenty four hour period that included John's voice breaking, two inches in height, twelve pounds, and John's discovery of the erotic potential of dreaming. It was like watching a fast-forward, complete with John's almost hysterical denial of what was self-evident, staring at them from behind Sheppard's opaque hazel eyes and daring them to make a single comment.
So talking has been out of the question, even if any of them could figure out what they could say.
Rodney knows he has the books; they're stacked neatly beneath his bed, shoved behind three pairs of too-small sweatpants and a small army of empty juice boxes. Rodney knows he read them, because John's been using Rodney's unrestricted database link to access a range of information that would usually only appeal to either the social sciences or someone who needed a lot more to do with their free time.
And he knows damn well John's crossed the nebulous boundary between vague theoretical appreciation and concrete realization, by his sudden, startled stumble during a workout with Teyla, flushing bright red and vanishing into the bowels of the city, leading Rodney to ask for Lorne's assistance in hunting him down, leading to the discovery that John had been spending more free time in the barracks than Rodney had ever agreed to allow.
"When did this start?" Rodney asks sharply, planting himself on the other side of Weir's desk, feeling weirdly shocky for what had amounted to being the equivalent of a movie night, with John and some of the younger Marines around a perfectly ordinary screen with popcorn and soda. Even to himself he can't justify the sudden start of anger, and just the memory of John's face shutting down like a closing door makes something roll in his stomach. "He's still an impressionable minor--"
"Who is developing rapidly enough to justify increasing his physical conditioning," Elizabeth says, and if she isn't quoting someone, Rodney will eat Kavanagh's socks. "We spoke about this soon after Carson confirmed that John's growth had begun to accelerate."
"Mornings," Rodney says slowly, staring her down. "Not socializing in the barracks."
"Playstation tournaments and movie nights." Elizabeth sighs, shaking her head. "Like it or not, Rodney, he's their commander--"
"All the more reason to limit their exposure until he's ready to--"
"What if this is what makes him ready?" Folding her hands on the desk, Elizabeth leans forward. "Rodney, when exactly do you think would be the right time for him to be introduced to his life?"
"He's a child."
"He was raised by an Air Force colonel," Elizabeth says deliberately. "He lived his entire life on Air Force bases. We can't reproduce his childhood or replace what he lost when this happened to him. And we can't pretend that what happened to him wasn't a loss. Heightmeyer and Carson both agree that *these* conditions will supersede his first memories. It's not a blank slate, but returning memories or not, he's already been altered by this."
Rodney swallows. "Is that such a bad idea?"
"I don't know. But I'm not sure I'm comfortable using John as a test case for nature versus nurture. John's an officer in the Air Force and chose that the first time. Even if he's a child now, I don't think we have the right to decide that his first choice is irrelevant."
There's no real argument to that, so he doesn't bother. "Every change in his schedule will go through me," Rodney says slowly. "Everything."
"He's chronologically twelve. A twelve year old, with select adult memories or not, does not have the ability to make these kinds of decisions; this is why most of them *have parents*. Or guardians. It's nature's way of making sure they don't die for stupid reasons." Taking a breath, Rodney wonders why she can't see what she's saying. "They have him for workouts. Lorne's got him an hour every evening. That is more than adequate to give him familiarity with his chosen career so he'll be ready. When he's--when he's older, he can choose how to proceed, but until then, he's in his team's custody, and we agreed that he should--should have the benefit of--"
"Not being what he is?"
Rodney narrows his eyes. "Not forced to be someone he's not ready to be."
Elizabeth looks an argument, but she agreed to this a long time ago, and Rodney's never been so grateful that they'd established this precedent. After a second, she nods, leaning back in her chair, giving him a wry look. "You're pushing."
"You wouldn't have agreed to this at the beginning if you thought we were wrong. He's safe and he's happy and he's growing. He'll--it's soon enough that he'll have to go back to that. He deserves a little more time without it." Standing up, Rodney ignores the faint sense that something's gone wrong in this conversation, and it very well might be both of them. "I--we're right. You know we are."
Elizabeth hesitates, then nods slowly. "All right. Where is he tonight anyway?"
"Ronon took him to the mainland." Rodney takes a deep breath. "Apparently, he's discovered Teyla is a girl."
Elizabeth covers her mouth, eyes bright as she waves him out of the room. Rodney hates her a lot. Going out, door closing behind him, Rodney pretends that behind him, Elizabeth isn't laughing.
Human sexuality, Corrigan is apt to say when someone is stupid enough to ask, is very complex. It's messy and strange and apparently they are perfectly capable of giving John a huge and disturbing variety of hang-ups, psychological scars, and possibly wreck any hope of John ever being able to carry on a healthy sexual relationship, just by how they react to oh, say, catching their erstwhile teenager making out with Halling's youngest niece.
"Oh God," Rodney says, staring at Ronon, who has grown to be surprisingly sensitive on the subject of John and puberty. "You just--what did you do? Did you scare him? Does he associate touching with being yelled at?" Rodney takes a second. "Isn't she one of the apprentice hunters? Oh my God. What if he associates sex with dead animals?"
Teyla, cross-legged on one of her numerous rugs, give him a dirty look. "Please stop speaking," she says between clenched teeth as Ronon reddens even more. "The Athosian people have managed to successfully achieve healthy relationships despite the fact we hunt for our meals."
Rodney shuts his mouth. But. "So what did he say? Did you talk about it?" Rodney glances at Ronon. "And not mention dirty water?"
Ronon fixes him with a level look. "He didn't want to talk about it."
This would be a good time to say something about responsibility and being John's guardians and the necessity of communication, but Rodney can't even conceptualize how a conversation with John involving sexuality would start.
"I spoke to Halling," Teyla says, looking determined and very uncomfortable. The fact is, discussing sex with a child is never easy; compound it with discussing it with your team leader, the military commander of Atlantis (on leave or whatever the SGC called this nearly year long nightmare) and John Sheppard all in one neat package…. "I asked him about how he discussed such things with Jinto."
Rodney leans forward. Practical advice. "And?"
Teyla blows out an impatient breath. "He mentioned that John had asked him some--interesting questions."
"What does 'interesting' mean?"
To his shock, Teyla flushes. "When I asked him to explain, he said that he had promised John that the conversation would be private, and I respected his wish for it to remain confidential."
"You're kidding me."
"However, Halling does wish us to know that while John has grasped the biological aspects, he is far more--uncertain about the social and cultural taboos placed on sexual--expression."
Rodney pulls the sentence apart--so John got the tab a, slot b concept down: thank God. But. "Taboos?"
"Restrictions. While Halling did not disclose details of the conversation, he did suggest that John's context may not be--as clear as one could hope." Staring at her hands, she takes a breath. "He thinks that John may need instruction on the--appropriate means of--dealing with his newfound--interests."
John is a Pegasus native in all but DNA; his best friends are Athosians, his caregivers include two Pegasus natives of different cultures and an astrophysicist (which even Rodney's willing to admit isn't a standard for his own culture), and his two female models are Teyla and Elizabeth. The Atlantis expedition is an exercise in multiculturalism in its purest form; if John were to suddenly lose his mind and ask any three people, he'd get wildly, wildly different answers on everything from appropriate dating ages to sexuality.
It's so much worse than Rodney had thought. "I don't even know how to think about this," Rodney says helplessly, looking between Teyla and Ronon. His only real comfort is that they're as bewildered as he is.
Elizabeth, of course, is completely unfazed, but Rodney's still twitching over that power point presentation. "So what, exactly, are you worried about?"
Rodney stares at her. "I emailed you a list. It had numbers in order of priority, sorted by the level of trauma associated with mishandling each one. Isn't there a DSM-IV on the network?"
Elizabeth sighs, leaning back in her chair. "I think you're worrying too much--which I say a few times a day, but it bears repeating. John isn't a blank slate--he does have his former experiences. I think it's enough to explain that his age precludes sexual involvement and that his returning memories and the speed at which he is maturing make it unwise to pursue relationships."
Rodney stares at her in horror. "It's like you have never been around a teenage boy."
"*Teenage boy*. Hormonal and moody, discovering uncomfortable--changes in his body, suddenly discovering attraction to women or--or men or whatever and--you think he's going to be able to *assess this logically*?"
Elizabeth frowns slightly. "But John--"
"If he woke up tomorrow in that body but with all of his memories, trust me, it *wouldn't make a difference*." Rodney's memories of puberty trickle through his mind in lurid, graphic, horrifically embarrassing detail. "We are saying to someone very hungry, there is chocolate in that pantry, but please subsist on this flavorless almost-oatmeal until you are older and wiser. We might as well just drop a box of condoms in his room and be done with it."
Under normal circumstances, a kid had several years of humiliation in store for him, with inappropriate erections and intense crushes and staring moodily at the chemistry teacher thinking about her lovely white shirts. But it was leavened by activity and video games and even if unpleasant, it covered *years*, not weeks, and a normal adolescent also didn't have the still-repressed-but-who-knows-when-that-w
Thank God, Elizabeth is starting to look worried.
"And," Rodney continues, because he's been thinking about this for, oh, days or maybe months, trying to come up with some kind of plan that won't end in horrible, horrible disaster, "most Pegasus cultures have much different restrictions. For that matter, the Athosians do, and let me tell you if I never have to have another talk with Halling about Athosian culture as it relates to sexuality with fucking *Corrigan* taking notes, it will be far, far too soon."
Elizabeth blinks, looking thoughtful for a moment. "Perhaps it would be advisable to allow John to visit the Athosians more often."
For a second, Rodney thinks he couldn't have possibly heard what he thought he heard. "Excuse me?"
"Halling did contact me," she says, looking amused. "After John's last visit and introduction to Perya. We spoke at length on the changes John is experiencing. For obvious reasons, John is uncomfortable discussing his growing maturity with us." Rodney opens his mouth to argue, but her raised eyebrow stops him short. "Did you discuss your newfound feelings and changes with your parents?"
Rodney can't stop his twitch. "I'm not his father. I mean, we're not his--"
"Parents, no, but at this point, for all intents and purposes, we *are* the equivalent. If John is more comfortable talking to Halling than us--" She shrugs. "I don’t see how that is a problem."
There *should* be, but Rodney can't think of an argument. He can come to *me*, Rodney wants to say, he *will*, but there are books under the bed and John hasn't said a word.
"Rodney?" Elizabeth asks, looking worried. Rodney wonders if he can explain this without sounding utterly insane. John talked to Halling about sex. John talks to Lorne about God knows what (gun cleaning? How to shoot in bad weather?). He talks to Rodney about the mathematics of the universe, the jumpers, Asgard hyperdrive, and what's for dinner.
But until this second--knowing that John goes to Halling, to *Lorne*, to the Marines for *movies*--he's aware of how much of John he's missed. John never talks about training with the Marines, about what he's reading (and Rodney's seen the novels in his backpack), about his crush on Teyla (so inevitable it just surprises him that they didn't see it coming), the way he's changing, remembering, the startled moments that come with the taste of Hershey's chocolate, the sound of music from an ipod piped through the lab speakers; John used to tell him everything. Even the things he didn't want to know.
Rodney picks up his cup. "I need more coffee."
There's a sad truth in the fact that Rodney likes watching John work out with Teyla. Not that he's stopped mocking John, but he tries to curb himself with the younger version since he watched John bring down a seventeen year old apprentice and smile up at Rodney with guileless eyes, asking if Rodney wanted a round.
Very John Sheppard, Rodney thinks, watching John and Teyla separate, exchange a touch of foreheads, and Teyla walk away as John goes back to exercises.
"He's getting better."
Teyla, wiping her face with a towel, nods slowly, eyes flickering back to watch. "He is learning very fast." Picking up a bottle of water, she calls a sharp command and John's back straightens abruptly as he moves through a turn. "Colonel Sheppard was never properly trained in hand to hand combat, so there were many--unpleasant habits to break." John doesn't have those habits now, she doesn't say, but the implication is clear, and so is her pride in him. Rodney takes a second to bask a little at the memory of John assembling a model naqada generator in the lab two days ago under Rodney's watchful eye, proving his thorough grounding in the practical principles of alien hybrid engineering. John has something intriguingly quirky in how he pulls things together, flashes of a talent to think around corners that makes Rodney set him more and more complex problems, just to see how he deals with them.
The solutions never fail in originality. Or, in the case of the night of the plasma flooding, heart stopping terror.
Teyla glances at his face, then turns to John. "I must speak to Dr. McKay before he takes you for the afternoon," she says to John. "Complete three repetitions, then cool down and you may go to lunch."
John nods, not looking at them, and Teyla leads Rodney out of the room, door closing behind them.
Rodney watches Teyla's eyes flicker to look back, and he finds himself doing the same thing, watching the thin body moving quickly through the complex exercises without a flaw, the combined efforts of Teyla and Ronon grounding John in the culture of the Pegasus galaxy the way that no other Atlantean could be. He's joined the children's hunting parties on the mainland, learned the customs of the Athosian people like he learned to assemble chip sets and program a computer, could read Ancient and Satedan scripts, and identify sixteen different variations of throwing knives on sight.
Rodney has a sudden, vivid memory of an evening spent with the team and Elizabeth on the west pier, John stretched out on blankets between them as they taught him the names of the stars in four languages, the stories behind each one.
Rodney's faintly aware that normal children aren't raised like this, that probably they *shouldn't be*, but John's John, and God, does this explain why the adult Sheppard looked monumentally bored so much of the time, if this is the level of activity required to keep him occupied.
Not being completely stupid, they go down the hall, just in case John convinces Atlantis that this is a conversation he has to hear. Again. "He grows very fast," she says, which is so obvious that Rodney wonders why on earth she bothered saying it. "He is becoming frustrated with the changes in his body."
This isn't news; anyone who had to get John up in the morning to get to PT got the full dose of John's barely concealed nervousness of what clothes would fit, what the mirror would reflect back at him.
Teyla takes a deep breath, giving him a wary look before she turns her attention back to John. "The Marines wish to extend their mornings--"
Rodney sees Teyla's hands clench. "I understand the importance of his continued attendance in the labs," Teyla says, but she's lying, and Rodney *knows* it. "However, on Atlantis he--"
"He's not a grunt," Rodney says testily, crossing his arms. "He's a *military commander*. His primary function isn't supposed to be the guy that shoots everything in sight; we just let him get away with it." Teyla's expression doesn't change. "They get him two hours in the mornings and I agreed that Lorne could start having him an hour every night. He's not ready for--"
"Rodney." Teyla pauses, towel twisting between her fingers. "He grows too fast."
Rodney waits, wondering where this is going. Teyla tosses the towel aside, turning to face him, naked frustration etching her face. "He grows *too fast*. What I teach him today, he must relearn tomorrow, when his body has changed. There are few days that he does not find the changes--unsettling. I believe that Dr. Beckett was clear on the problems inherent in such rapid muscle growth--he must spend more time learning his body and what it can do."
What she isn't saying--Carson's worry about John's growth curve; they're off every chart that Medical's tried to build. John's in a roughly human development curve, but the Ancient gene apparently is around for more than activating key Ancient systems; brain development is skewing, and while Rodney's never pretended to be a neurologist, he's read the reports and can guess the reasons. This time around, John's brain is developing with an active ATA presence in constant contact.
And fact: the Ancients bred with humans, but they were, for all intents and purposes *alien*. John's not Ancient, but there's a fairly good chance that what they're seeing now is the ATA, activated from childhood instead of dormant, doing its damndest to bring him closer to those he descended from. The only real question is how much is the work of Atlantis, how much is the work of John's own genetics being activated early, and how much was that damned priestess meddling when she regressed him.
And Rodney can't even think about that dormant Wraith DNA still living in his cells; Carson's panicking enough for them all.
"Teyla, he's still a child. A *child*, no matter what memories he may have recovered--"
"He is and he is not. He must relearn what he learned yesterday, the day before; he must relearn what he hasn't yet begun to do, what will match his memories, because his body grows so quickly, and his mind follows," she continues implacably. "He is--he is beyond the point where all he requires is simple exercise--he needs the training among his people so when those memories come, they have context. So his body will understand what his mind tells him he should be able to do."
She pauses expectantly. Rodney honestly has no idea how to respond to that. Face softening, Teyla's gently rests her hands on his shoulders. "I understand your concerns. But he is--" she looks at him curiously. "What worries you? That in being his instructors, his--military will not respect him once he has returned to his correct age? I do not think you need to worry."
Explaining would be impossible. Rodney shakes his head, looking over her shoulder to see John emerge from the practice room.
Teyla turns around quickly, a smile curving her mouth. "How are you feeling?"
John shrugs, bag loose over one shoulder. He's too thin, Rodney thinks critically, like his height stretches him too much, bones too visible beneath thin skin. But he glows with energy, making Rodney tired just looking at him. He leans easily into Teyla, and Rodney's surprised to see he's almost to her shoulder, going up on his toes to touch his forehead to hers as easily as an Athosian would.
"Food, now," John says, looking hopefully in the direction of the mess hall.
"Come on," Rodney says, and Teyla smiles again before leaving them. John bounces up on his toes, and Rodney thinks longingly of the coffee in his lab. "Lab first. I want to check on a simulation."
John sighs deeply but falls into step beside him, resettling his bag over one shoulder. Rodney, glancing down, notices that the track pants have lost at least an inch in length and desperately wants to blame Ancient washing machines. "What's Zelenka doing?"
"Working," Rodney says repressively, because Zelenka takes John's presence as permission for scientists' recess, where the two of them will spend hours staring at the specs of the puddlejumpers and Zelenka make noises about adding a dematerialization beam to the system while John unabashedly asks for more weapons and naqada-core torpedoes. "Very busy. Doing important things."
"You have him overseeing the desalinization tanks again, don't you?"
Rodney stares down at John. "Would you like to learn the thrilling mechanics of waste disposal? I can arrange a field trip. Anytime. I. Want."
John scowls unhappily, mouth turned down in a dissatisfied pout that has to be some kind of genetic thing given to all teenagers everywhere. "Fine. You don't have to get cranky." Jogging ahead, John turns slightly to watch Rodney with narrowed eyes, hazel eyes thoughtful, and for a second, it's Sheppard looking at him, asking questions without saying a word. "Something on your mind?"
Rodney tries not to stare at John's too-short hair. "I was just--do you like the Marines? I mean, the entire running and jumping over stupid obstacles and crawling through mud--and really, what's the point of that anyway? Never mind," he says quickly, as John's face closes into a fairly good rendition of utter blank confusion. "I was just wondering."
John looks at him for a second, and Rodney'd probably be screwed if John had a third of Sheppard's perceptiveness. Luckily, that's apparently something he has to grow into. Thank God.
"It's interesting," John says, which is code, Rodney's learned, for coolest thing ever. "They like me." John sounds faintly surprised, and Rodney has a second of anger, wondering who in the name of God made John feel anything but welcome, but there's faint smile on his face, that look that Sheppard always seemed to get when the world surprised him in pleasant ways. "Lorne says Marines and Air Force personnel aren't--um--you know. So it's--they said I'd make a good Marine. You know. If I could have made it through boot."
"Does the Air Force have boot?"
John rolls his eyes; back to the familiar teenager again, disconcerting Sheppardness aside. "Yes, Rodney. They have boot."
*They* have boot; but once, John had, or something like it. Rodney's not clear on the details; that part hadn't been relevant to John's childhood. But it's relevant now, surprisingly so; Rodney wonders if he asked, if John would tell him about how he joined the Air Force, if he even remembered.
John makes a low sound, impatient, very close to the way Ronon growls when there's food and he's not being allowed close to it. Rodney frowns at him. "You need to be careful when you're--with the Marines," Rodney says finally, remembering getting Simpson to help him wire the security feeds to watch John, small and incongruous in his Air Force sweatshirt and shorts surrounded by full-grown men in green. He'd been taking four steps for their every two, panting and flushed, and Rodney couldn't see how he could be expected to keep up. "Remember what Carson said about your development curve and overdoing it--"
"Muscle weakness, tendon overextension, possible tearing, blah blah blah," John drones, looking bored. Rodney thinks that if he's accomplished nothing else in the last six months, he's completely destroyed any hope that John Sheppard will ever take biology seriously. Rodney tries not to smile. "I just need to exercise a lot." John stretches unconsciously, shaking himself, reminding Rodney of a half-grown puppy, all too-long limbs and almost painful cuteness. "Teyla said that in a month or so, I'll be at my usual height and it won't be so--weird."
It probably says a lot about Atlantis, and those raising John, that he can sound so casual about the fact he's going to grow about two feet in the next month and not think how incredibly, undeniably *weird* it is. It probably says a lot about Rodney that he doesn't find it weird anymore, either.
"I just--" In the lab, Rodney nods to Simpson, watching John wander across the room to his laptop, powering up whatever Zelenka has him working on--most recently, Asgard hyperdrive design, grabbing a powerbar from his bag as he settles down, hazel eyes fixed on the screen. Rodney's got about three minutes before John's *gone*, lost in his own world, and coming over, he watches John for a moment. "What do you and Lorne do?"
John's head comes up sharply, a second too late to hide his expression. "Talk."
John shrugs so casually that it's obvious he's anything but casual. "Old mission reports from the SGC. Flying. You know. Stuff." There's a quick, unreadable look from underneath dark lashes before John relaxes--makes himself relax, Rodney realizes with a faint sense of discomfort. "Why?"
Leaning into the side of the table, Rodney watches John's eyes flicker down the screen. Hundreds of grad students, colleagues, professors, and it would be his luck to find someone worth the effort of teaching--someone he *wants* to teach--in this place, in this boy who won't be a boy much longer, won't be *John* much longer.
It's selfish, he knows, to want a little more time--just a little. Just enough to work through hyperdrives and the properties of hyperspace, show him the universe the way Rodney sees it, huge and endless and amazing, just make him *see* what he could be, except for all the ways he can't be, not and still be--still *become* Sheppard.
Leaning an elbow on the lab table, Rodney waits for John to look up. "I'm just curious."
The flickering look of disbelief on John's face is almost a slap, and a part of Rodney's mind offers up some choice derogatory terms he's used regarding the military in John's hearing.
He wonders, a little sick, if John's absorbed more than physics from him.
I don't want you to be ashamed of what you are, he wants to say. I'm not Elahara. He stops himself from hugging John and offering to build him a new gun. There's no way that's appropriate for someone who still plays with GI Joes in the botany lab. "I like the military," he says instead, lying through his teeth. John snorts softly, typing something one handed before looking up again. "You know, I've worked with them for years."
"You call them monkeys with guns," John answers dryly, but Rodney thinks there's an edge of discomfort there. "We just talk. He said that it would be easier if I could--you know. Get what my job was--is. Is going to be."
There's nothing quite like age regression to fuck up your verb tenses, Rodney thinks, trying not to sigh. "I just--"
"Nothing bad," John says, too quickly, and Rodney can tell that for all he's staring at the screen, he isn't paying it any attention. "What it was like to go offworld with my--with you. And Teyla and Ronon." John's face reflects a bewildering array of emotions--confusion, pride, a little awe, discomfort above all. When you figure out you used to lead your *de facto* parents on dangerous missions on alien planets, Rodney supposes you've earned a certain amount of uncertainty on how that worked, and that gives Rodney a second of reflection, imagining them sitting around a campfire on another godforsaken pastoral world, with Teyla slapping John's hand when he tries to ignore his vegetables while Rodney quizzes him on interstellar phenomena.
Of all of them, Rodney thinks Ronon will probably adapt the best. He's never seen a difference at all. "Is everything else okay?" he asks, wondering if coming at this from a different direction will make any kind of difference. "I mean, with-- adjusting. To your--recent--" Rodney takes a deep breath while he gestures in John's general direction. "All the changes."
John's fingers slip on the keys, and Rodney sees the same horror on John's face that he feels sitting on his own; they are skidding along the territory of information that can and *has* led to sudden blackouts and John finding an emergency that requires his attention in Botany, where Parrish will look Rodney right in the eye and say he hasn't seen John all day. "Good," John says desperately, voice breaking--another thing that they're all expected to completely not notice, but every damn time, it's like a shock of water. "Hey, dinner now?" Saving quickly, he closes his laptop and almost falls off his stool, glancing toward the door like it can send him to another dimension where none of this can possibly be happening. "There's roast--meat. And carrots. And did I tell you that I was reading Hawking the other night--"
Rodney lets himself be maneuvered to the door, John's quick, light chatter filling his ears, and thinks he missed something huge and has no idea what it could be.
Rodney doesn't have time to panic; sprinting across the room, he catches John just as his knees go out, folding into Rodney's arms before he can even push away from his laptop, hazel eyes wide and dilated black. Rodney eases him down, feeling Atlantis hum soothingly as John begins to shake, drawing into a tight ball.
"Out," he says, and the lab clears almost instantly, door shutting and locking with a thought.
Rodney doesn't bother getting up. He does, however, try to throw the stick in Teyla's direction. It falls short, which just about describe his luck right now.
"Dr. McKay," Teyla says from somewhere far away, probably standing up. "If you wish, we can stop for the day."
"I wish," Rodney says. Sitting up, he waits for the rush of blood to clear from his vision and for his back to stop hurting. He gets the former. "That was fun."
Teyla reaches out, grabbing his hand in a firm grip before pulling him from the floor so easily he hates her just a little. "You are getting better." Head tilted, she goes back to pick up the sticks, putting them away before taking a seat on one of the rugs. Sighing, Rodney follows, dropping down with a groan and the wall to support him. "I am glad you wish to learn," she starts diplomatically, which is to say, she's utterly bewildered and has no idea how to tell him that, "but I am curious why you decided to do so."
Taking the bottle she holds out, Rodney takes a drink. "Fitness."
"Colonel Sheppard once said that getting you to the gym had required horrific and degrading favors--"
"Monthly MENSA meetings," Rodney answers smugly, then sighs. "I think the best part was when he and Simpson got into a fight over relativity as it relates to hyperspace."
Teyla's mouth twitches. "He was incorrect?"
"Who the hell knows; sometimes I think the Asgard made it up just to fuck with us. But I think most of it was the fact that he had to admit he knew what she was talking about."
Smirking, Teyla cradles her own bottle, chin resting on her knee. "You did not tell me why you decided to come here."
That would be because Rodney can't admit it. "He's remembering more."
"He's not telling us." Rodney hesitates, knowing it's petty, knowing it's stupid, and that knowing doesn't change a goddamn thing. "But he's telling Lorne."
Rodney waits for Teyla to say something; he knows the arguments she'll make. John's edging on sixteen and running toward seventeen in a collision that will demarcate the line between the boy they care for and the man he has to become.
"I think," she says slowly, obviously choosing each word with care, "that we must consider Lorne's plan."
Rodney looks at her tiredly. "Teyla--" He stops, eyes narrowing as he studies her face. "You already agreed. To give him up."
"To *allow* him to rediscover who he is." Teyla takes a deep breath. "I have spoken to Major Lorne as well as the other officers. Agreement was unanimous on this point; John must recreate, as closely as possible, his earliest training and give his memories and his body context for what they know. I train him, Dr. McKay. And I know how much he does not tell by what he can do. Every day, there is more, and there is more confusion, and more fear. We cannot--*we cannot* protect him from himself. Nor should we wish to."
"What do they want?" Rodney demands, voice rough and unfamiliar.
"Isolation from the population to retrain him in what he used to know. They called it boot camp."
"No." Standing up, Rodney looks for his bag. "Sanctioned brainwashing--"
Rodney finds the bag under a bench; grabbing it, he throws it over his shoulder, feeling shaky and so angry he can barely speak. "No. He's not going through that--"
"Then you may make your arguments to Dr. Weir," Teyla says, calm and still in the middle of the room. Rodney's chest tightens. "I've asked Lorne to present his plan to the senior staff. I have also already given him my support in whatever measures he and the other members of the military think are necessary."
"I'll fight it."
Teyla licks her lips, eyes closing. "I had hoped--"
"Don't." He's not entirely sure his legs are going to carry him to the door, but to his surprise, he makes it all the way, door opening immediately. "When?"
"As soon as it can be arranged." Teyla hesitates. "Dr. McKay, please listen to Major Lorne before you pass judgment. I think, if you listen to his reasoning, you will understand."
The door closes before she can say anything else; Rodney leans against the wall for a second, then walks to the transporter with something like his usual calm. John's in the lab; he'll talk to him. Explain--
The lab is quiet; after the last memory shock, Rodney banned them from the third lab. There's nothing in here they need anyway, and it's been John's favorite place since the first time Rodney brought him here.
John's where he left him, perched on a stool by a laptop, but the hazel eyes are half-closed, mouth set in a tight, uncompromising line. He doesn't look up when Rodney comes in, but he goes back to typing.
"John," Rodney starts, then stops. For the first time, he notices the band-aids on John's fingers, the faint line of a tan on his upper arms. "What happened to your hands?" he says slowly, trying to remember an accident and wondering why no one told him.
"Uh." John looks down at his hands as if he'd never seen him before. "Just--you know. Wear and everything." He turns the laptop so Rodney can see the screen. "I was working on--"
Even closer, Rodney can see other things. The faintest trace of stubble that wasn't there before (yesterday? The day before? When had Rodney last looked at him closely?), the realization that John doesn't have many more inches to go before he's Rodney's height. He doesn't have Sheppard's strength yet, the body that was built with time and scars, training and life etching their indelible marks into his skin to prove the man he was. This John's body wouldn't match his memories; it's a blank slate for them to write his life on and hope they got it right.
Condensed, from necessity. Abridged, because it has to be. Altered, yes, because everything has changed, everything but the memories that John carries.
Rodney reaches for John's hand, flattening it palm-up on the table. Turning his own over, he looks at the fading blisters on the heel and knuckles, marking out the band-aids for the spaces that blisters would grow until calluses would take their place. "My first month, I made Carson give me Vicodin," Rodney says. His own calluses are fading, vanishing into the softer hands of a man who never leaves the safety of his lab. "You made me practice every day."
John's hand trembles. Rodney touches a fingertip to the angry red heel. "The obstacle course," he says, forcing himself to keep his voice light. "When we came here, you gave everyone a day of training; kindergarten for scientists. Me, you threw me to the Marines for three days. I barely survived."
"Jesus," Sheppard's low voice murmurs. "It wasn't that bad, McKay. They didn't even try and shave your head." John's hand stills. "I remember that."
Rodney stares at their hands, ignoring the sharp twist of pain. "Why--" Rodney swallows, clearing the sudden thickness in his throat, "why are you scared?"
John's quiet for too long; when Rodney looks up, John's eyes are distant, looking at something Rodney can't see.
"When I was a kid, I was scared of heights," John whispers. Abruptly, he pulls his hand away. "The first time I stepped into a cockpit, I realized why. I never wanted to leave the sky. And after that, there was nothing, nothing I wouldn't do to stay there. Nothing else mattered.
"This time--" John's voice roughens. "I remember how I felt the first time I flew a plane, a helicopter, a jumper. How it was--it was everything I was. This time--now--I just want to see if that was it. Just a pilot."
"You've never been just anything, Sheppard," Rodney whispers.
"You don't believe, though, do you?" Abruptly, John closes the laptop. "You're scared--you, Dr. Weir, even Teyla, when I do anything, when I remember anything, like you're scared of what I'll find out--"
"No. John. *John*--"
"I'm scared to remember too much. Because one day whatever it is you're scared of, I'll *remember* and--"
John shudders, mouth shutting with a click. "You can't lie to me forever," John says, voice very low and very tired. "Even if I wish you could. It's going to happen, whatever it is, and you won't--none of you will--"
"That's not going to happen. There's nothing about you that scares me."
Rodney wants to yell and throw something, call up Lorne and Teyla and Weir, set John down and make him *listen* but mostly, he just wants to not have asked, so he wouldn't know. Because while it had hurt to think John talked to other people, it's so much worse to realize the reason he couldn't talk to them. "We're scared for you. For what you're going through. Not--not what you are."
John doesn't answer; then again, Rodney's not sure he's listening. He watches John pack up his laptop, bag over his shoulder, and wishes he knew what he could say that John would believe.
"See you after dinner," John says over his shoulder, straightening uncomfortably. "I have some stuff I have to get done."
A visit to Lorne or the barracks: a euphemism that Rodney taught him to use and didn't even know it. Rodney nods pleasantly, not pushing at all, watching as John walks out the door, leaving him behind. Sitting on John's stool, Rodney touches his radio. "Teyla. Call Weir and schedule it for tomorrow morning. And tell--and tell Lorne we'll listen."
He closes the channel before she can respond; he wonders, looking at the closed door, how much this is going to hurt.