Beta: Joe
Disclaimer: -snorts-
Raiting: PG-13 (for language)
Warnings: Vague spoiler for Coup D'Ete, Kid!fic
Notes: Written for the sgaflashfic Exhaustion Challenge over on LJ. This story is now part of a series entitled Finding Emily (all of those stories will be posted to this Story Thread as individual or multiple chapters). There are mentions of drug abuse (not self-administered). I hope you enjoy the stories!

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The Photograph

As a precaution Carson had put them into an isolation room. After four days of being held captive by a renegade group of Genii soldiers, Lt. Colonel John Sheppard was just glad to be back in Atlantis. With the reassuring hum of the city murmuring in the back of his mind John felt at home, safe. They were back and that was all that really mattered. And if he told himself that often enough he might just believe it too. Because he'd seen the cold look on McKay's face when the Genii guard had barged into their cell the last time. John Sheppard had never seen a look like that on Rodney's face before. It still chilled him to remember it.

Turning about on his heel, John looked over to his room mate and studied the still expression on his face. Rodney had hardly spoken since they had come back to Atlantis. And it was making John nervous. Rodney was constantly expelling energy, either through spoken words or movements. But Rodney just sat there, silent and staring at a photograph in his hands – transfixed by what he saw. But John remembered.

Four days without sleep and only minimal amounts of food while hopped up on some sort of drug. Those renegade Genii had kept them awake with a combination of drugs and had been unprepared for what that would do to them. For what it would do to Rodney when he was pushed too far.

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"What is this?" the Genii soldier demanded, waving a glossy piece of paper at them.

"It's a photograph," John had told him. He couldn't see who the picture was of, but he knew what it was.

"And that is what?"

Rodney responded that time, getting to his feet. "It's a still image of someone or something caught in a moment of time. Often taken to preserve a memory or supplement a missing one."

Something in Rodney's voice set John on edge, made the small hair on the back of his neck stand at attention. The explanation had been given without even a hint of the regular sarcasm or mockery and McKay hadn't been speaking with his hands, just his voice. Mostly it was the fact that even John hadn't realized Rodney had advanced on their guard, he was nearly an arms length away and even the guard hadn't noticed his movement.

"Give it back," Rodney had said in an oddly calm voice, hand out stretched and uncurled. And it wasn't until then that John realized the photograph belong to Rodney. It wasn't his, but John had never seen Rodney carrying a picture with him anywhere. And the few real pictures Rodney had in his room were of his cat and one of himself when he was awarded his first grant and doctorate. It had just never occurred to John that it would be Rodney's.

Their guard had only leered at the photograph. "She is very beautiful. Is she yours, Dr. McKay?" The question had been a veiled threat, and John wanted to know who the picture was of.

That had been when the coldness had settled over Rodney. There had been no betraying flicker of emotion on his normally expressive face. Rodney couldn't lie for shit and here he'd gone and dropped a painfully-void mask over his thoughts and emotions.

John's skin had begun to crawl when Rodney repeated, "Give me the picture," in a deadly soft voice.

"No," the other man said. "Tell me who she is or I will destroy your memory piece."

John didn't even have time to react when the soldier had pulled out one the lighters they had confiscated with the rest of their gear and lit it under the picture. Rodney had launched himself at the other man, fingers curled into deadly claws wrapping around the man's airway as he shoved him against the wall of their cell before he could light the picture on fire. He'd dropped the picture and the lighter in surprise and had only just begun to reach up to Rodney's hands when Rodney bashed him against the wall with enough force that John heard the sickening crack of a breaking skull.

Rodney had released the guard and stooped to pick up his picture just as John discovered he could move again. Disarming the guard he and Rodney hadn't needed the rescue team to save them. They shot their way out of the small compound and went for the gate, dialing the Alpha site.

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

They had been back for nearly four hours now and Rodney still hadn't spoken to anyone except to tell Carson in no uncertain terms that he was not giving up the photograph. And even then the muted growl had been a fair imitation of Ronon's. John was beginning to worry for his friend. Rodney rarely went without speaking for more than a handful of minutes unless he was working, and even then he was usually shouting at the other scientists, or at John, or at anyone who happened to be near by.

But now he was just staring at the picture. Through all the tests they'd been forced to endure, he'd just clung to that photograph without so much as a protesting frown creasing his brow. It was like Dr. Rodney McKay had disappeared into his own mind and had just left his body behind. Dr. Heightmeyer had stopped by an hour ago to try to talk with them when Carson had refused to give them sedatives because he was worried about how they would react with whatever the Genii had been giving them.

Pacing back over to his bed, John hopped up onto it and faced Rodney, contemplating what he could do to get his friend talking again, to get him to fill the unnatural silence and erase that awful stillness. John wanted his friend back, but had a feeling that Rodney was the one who needed him to be the friend at the moment.

Crossing his legs on the bed Indian style, John leaned his elbows on his knees and considered his friend for a moment before speaking. "Rodney?" he tried, hoping that he might be willing to crawl out of that quiet, frightening place on his own. But it wasn't the case. So John tried again.

"Rodney," he said carefully. "Could you tell me who's in the picture?"

He was silent for so long that John didn't think he was going to answer him. He just kept staring at the picture in his hands as though the rest of the world around him just didn't exist. He hadn't spoken a word while Carson did their exams, or when Elizabeth had come to get their story about what had happened. He'd just held on more tightly to that damn picture.

And just when John had decided he wasn't going to answer the gently posed question, Rodney broken the stillness. He sucked in a deep breath, shoulders lifting, chest expanding, and he answered. He answered in a hallowed out voice that seemed to come from someone else, because Rodney McKay had an animated way of talking. "My daughter," he said. "It's a picture of my daughter."

John just blinked in shock. He hadn't even known Rodney had kids. Rodney hated kids, couldn't stand them for any reason. Even though he was really good with them, he tried so hard to keep them away from him. He kept any kids they came across at an emotional arms length away from him. Rodney having his own children was an image liable to make John's brain break from the lack of believability.

But he tried to be supportive. "What's her name?" he asked in the same gentle tone that had worked the first time, forcing back his shock and amazement. Shock that Rodney had never told him, never said anything. Amazement that he'd just left her behind on Earth.

Rodney touched the picture carefully when he answered that time. "Emily."

Something told John to keep asking questions. It was obvious that Rodney hadn't told anyone about his daughter. Something had happened to little Emily McKay and so far, John was the only one who had been able to get him to talk. Even Heightmeyer hadn't known who the picture was of. "What's she like?" John asked him, though he wasn't sure if he should be poking at his friend's mind. But he'd never seen Rodney react so violently even when provoked as he had when their Genii guard had tried to burn that picture.

"I don't know," was Rodney's empty answer. "I know her name is Emily. I know that she'll be seven in October. I know she's living with her mother somewhere on Earth." He frowned then, sitting up straighter, but never taking his gaze away from that picture. "But I have no idea what day she was born. I don't know how much she weighed at birth, or what hospital she was born in. I have no idea who she is or what kind of person she might be."

Rodney seemed to be falling deeper into whatever vicious vortex his mind had created for him. There was no trace of outrage, or hurt, or anger, or hell even tears to hint that Rodney might be hurting at the moment. John remembered that kind of sucking numbness. Had experienced it himself more than once. It was a type of misery that would never let go, that would suck you dry and leave you a hallowed husk with nothing left to live for. Unless you fought your way out of it. John had learned that lesson early in life – his hand rubbed over his naked wrist that was usually covered by the arm band.

He remembered that kind of pain. He remembered that kind of existence.

Taking in a deep breath, John prepared himself to do something he would normally never do – be deliberately cruel to someone who was obviously suffering. "Shouldn't be that bad, McKay," John told him with a falsely cheerful voice. "You don't even like kids."

That had the desired reaction. Rodney's head snapped up, turning an icy glare in his direction. If looks could have killed, John was sure that he would have suffered some sort of torturous death in that moment. "Do you have children, Colonel?" Rodney demanded.

John didn't even hesitate in answering. "No. None that I know of."

"Then don't you dare presume to tell me what should and should not be that bad when it comes to my daughter," Rodney hissed at him in a low threatening voice. But it was apparently all that Rodney needed to break himself free from the downward slid he'd been willingly falling down. "Did you ever stop and wonder why I can't stand children? Aside from my vocal complaints about their lack of intelligence and their need to ask stupid, pointless questions. Have you stopped to consider that I can't stand other children because I don't even know my own daughter?

"I don't even know what day she was born, for Christ's sake! I had to beg and plead with my ex-wife just to get her name and find out if she'd been born with ten fingers and ten toes!" Releasing one side of his picture Rodney waved it at him. "This is it, Colonel. The only thing I have of her. One picture I paid a near fortune for from a P.I. because Chloe has spent the last seven years running, doing her damnedest to make sure I never get to see my own kid!"

Rodney came off his bed and began to pace their relatively small isolation room. He dropped Emily's picture on the bed next to John when he passed. John reached for it, unthinking, and picked it up. A little girl no more than five or six years old smiled up at John from the picture. She had Rodney's blue eyes and Rodney's rare easy smile. There was no doubt in John's mind that the dark haired girl in the picture was Rodney's daughter. There was no mistaking that intelligent light in her eyes.

"I have no idea what her favourite colour is, or her favourite food. I don't know which bedtime story she likes to have read to her at night. I have no idea if she likes cats or dogs, or if Chloe ever got her a puppy or a kitten," Rodney continued with his rant. But he seemed to be losing sight of why he was angry to begin with, so overwhelmed with his own pain.

John just listened. That was what Rodney needed from him at the moment, to just listen. "I don't know what kind of school she's going to. I don't know what kind of friends she has. Or what her favourite subject is. I never got to hear her first words-" And just like that something cracked. Rodney's rant while still coherent in its argument was nearly shouted with a voice that betrayed just how hard Rodney was trying to not cry.

"I didn't get to hear her first words. I wasn't there when she started walking. God, I didn't even know what had happened to her and Chloe on her first Christmas!" Rodney had his back to John, and didn't see him slid off the bed and pad bear foot behind him. "I didn't get to see her go off to her first day of school," Rodney said in a somewhat straggled voice. John slid his arms around Rodney's shoulders, drawing him back against his body. "I don't even know if she knows who I am."

John didn't try to turn Rodney around, he just held on to him, rocking him gently from behind. John had no words to offer to that kind of pain. So when he felt Rodney's shoulders shake silently against him, John just closed his eyes and tucked his forehead just behind Rodney's ear. Rodney's hands clutched at his arms, body shaking uncontrollably with his grief.

John managed to get them into a bed when Rodney had stopped shaking. It was a tight fit, but they managed to maneuver themselves around enough to find a comfortable way to sleep on the narrow bed. They'd shared enough cramped tent space to have grown comfortable with one another over the years, and so finding their limbs tangled together wasn't so surprising. John rubbed soothing circles on Rodney's back and eventually drew out the entire story of Chloe, their divorce, and Emily.

John learned that Rodney McKay had fallen head-over-heels hopelessly in love with Chloe Abigail Johnson. They'd gotten married, and not long after that, they'd gotten pregnant. Rodney had been overjoyed when he'd heard the news, and suddenly the baby had become the center of his world along side of his wife. But Chloe had left Rodney when she was nearly eight months pregnant. She's taken all of her things, emptied their bank accounts and just left – no letter or note to tell him why or where.

Rodney told him in a soft voice about their divorce and how he'd refused to sign the papers until he'd found out what had happened to his daughter. He'd demanded to know if she were alright, what her name was, where they were. But Rodney had only gotten a cold letter telling him that she had named the baby Emily Meghan, that she was fine, and that Rodney was to sign the divorce papers and never try to find them. After that Rodney had signed the papers and hired private investigator after private investigator trying to find out where they were to no avail, except for that one picture. And when Chloe found out that Rodney had discovered where they were they had disappeared almost over night.

Rodney babbled about writing letters to Emily every week, his words slurring together as the drugs they had been given wore off and sleep began to suck him under. He told John about the boxes of letters he had written, that he kept writing to her, even though he couldn't send the letters.

When he finally drifted off to sleep, John looked up at the observation dome above their room and saw Carson, who nodded slightly down to John before stepping away.

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Epilogue
Two and a half weeks later

The Daedalus had just docked off the east pier ready to provide Atlantis with some much needed supplies and new staff. It had taken John nearly that long to get everything he needed together. Rodney had no idea what John was up to, and that was the way that John wanted to keep it. His almost lover didn't need to get his hopes up, not after all the times he'd had those hopes crushed only to be built back up and destroyed again. Rodney's determination to find his daughter, regardless of what his ex-wife had said had faltered under the nearly futile effort.

But John's hadn't. It was that reason that he strode through the corridors trying to head Caldwell off before the older man threw himself into the busy work of catching up on all he had missed. John found him just as he stepped out of the transporter near the control tower. Not even thinking, John grabbed the other man's arm and hauled him back into the transporter and hit the destination pad so that they would be spit out close to his rarely used office.

"Just what do you think you're doing, Sheppard?" Caldwell demanded.

"Asking a favour, sir," John replied cryptically. And it got Caldwell's attention, just like he knew it would. John Sheppard did not ask favours of the man who had made no secrets about wanting his job.

"And what kind of favour are you asking for, colonel?" Caldwell asked with no little surprise and suspicion.

John didn't even answer him, just strode into his office and swooped up a data padded that was sitting on his desk and sheet of glossy paper. He handed the data pad over to Caldwell and leaned back against his desk as the other man took a seat before it and began to read. A frown creased his brow part way through it, but he kept reading, waiting until he'd gone through the full piece for asking questions.

When he finally looked back up to John, the frown had turned into a puzzled scowl. John had his arms crossed over his chest. He'd watched every reaction to what he'd read, and hadn't been disappointed. John had no idea if Caldwell was married, or divorced, or if he had kids of his own. He'd taken a chance. And it looked as though it might pan out.

"And what kind of favour are you asking for, Colonel? As interesting a read as this was, it still hasn't answered my question." Caldwell just leaned back in his chair and raised an eyebrow at him. But John read past the now blankly curious expression and saw what he'd been looking for. Outrage.

He handed over the sheet of precious, glossy, eight by ten paper to Caldwell. Centered on the paper was a five by seven photograph of a smiling girl with bright blue, intelligent eyes. The sunlight in the picture reflected off her dark hair and made the little girl glow.

"I want to find her, sir."

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The End