Disclaimer: In some alternate reality I'm sure I own them... unfortunately, not in this one
Raiting: PG13 (language)
Betas: angw & bluejbird
Summary: John never told Rodney about Emily and the polar bears.
Notes: This took forever to put together, but it's finally finished. The Once and Only "chapter" is now complete. A very big thank you to my betas for the wonderful work they've done with this story. It wouldn't be nearly as enjoyable without their efforts. Any mistakes remaining are mine and mine alone. Also, now that Once and Only is complete, a new collection of stories will be forthcoming - titled Consequences - if you are at all interested in adding to the next instalment of Finding Emily, have a look over at my LJ to add suggestions or comments to the entry for this chapter (if you don't have an LJ account, that's okay, you can leave an annon. comment too). I hope you enjoy this chapter - it was a lot of hard work!
"You're the type of person who doesn't trust easily," she added over his protesting and embarrassment. "You don't trust easily and because you don't you aren't the type of man who'll fall in love more than once. You've found your once and only, baby. This is it. There is never going to be another person that you'll love as completely as this.
"You just be there for him," she told him. "You do what you think you have to, and you let Rodney take care of the rest. If he's half the type of man he seems to be, he's not going to just let go."
John was shaking his head at that, shoulders hunching forward slightly. "This is his daughter, Mom. In the grand scheme of things I don't stack up that high in comparison."
He wouldn't look up at her, even while the silence stretched out into something uncomfortable. He'd known almost from the moment that he'd started looking for Emily that he was going to lose Rodney along the way. At first he'd thought that Rodney would just end things and never speak to him again. And then Rodney had calmed down a little and made a stuttering non-apology for being an ass and asked him if he could go with him to talk to Elizabeth. And then it had been possibly losing Rodney to Earth because he couldn't bring Emily back and wouldn't want to John to stay with them.
"You love what you're doing right now, baby?" she asked him.
John did look up then, pushing aside thoughts about losing Rodney. "Yeah," he said. "The base I'm stationed at is more home to me than most places have been. The people I work with… they're like family." He couldn't meet her eyes on that one and glanced away from her.
She took his hand in her own and squeezed a little. "It's alright to be happy somewhere else. I did the best I could for you, and I know you were happy while you were here. That's all that matters to me." Tugging a little on his hand to get his attention she added, "But what I want to know is would you give it up for Rodney? Would you leave your new home and new family and stay here for him? Would you give up flying, baby?"
John blinked and drew in a deep breath. Because John had once asked Rodney if he would give up Atlantis and Rodney hadn't known the answer. But John knew what his was. He'd give up Atlantis for Rodney. He'd give up flying, and the puddlejumpers. He'd give up 'gate travel and Pegasus. He'd give up every damn thing for Rodney so he could settle down here on Earth and make a life for himself with Emily.
"Everything," John answered. "I'd give up everything."
Rodney had a minor break down on the way back to the house when he told John about the tree-house conversation he'd had with Emily. John was thrilled that Rodney seemed to have started off on the right foot with his daughter. It didn't matter that it hurt a little to know that Rodney would be able to build a life that might not include John in it, but he was trying hard not to think about that. Rodney hadn't asked him to stay behind, and regardless of Rodney's explanation, that still stung a little.
They were up late into the night pouring through the contents of the shoebox. There was a stack of photographs – ranging from the day of Emily's birth in the hospital, school photos and then finally to a picture that had clearly been taken at her last birthday. Names, dates, and places were written on the back in neat writing. Rodney took his time with those, watching the progression of years from one image to the next, pausing every now and then to take a closer look.
There was also some sheet music folded neatly inside. It was music for a violin from Emily's first recital. There was a picture that went with the music and the note on the top of the paper. There were copies of all her report cards. There was even a seashell, soft pink inside and almost glittering outside. And there were two ribbons for science-fair projects – one for first place and one for second – with a picture attached to each.
The next morning doubts began to surface. Rodney had spent the entire time it took for him to consume his first pot of coffee fretting that Chloe was only giving Emily up because of her fear of another episode. And maybe now that she didn't have to worry about it she might try to reverse the custody exchange. John told Rodney about his conversation with Jim Dawson and, after half dozen calls to Mr. Dickey, Rodney was reassured that the exchange was sound, now that the papers had been signed. Chloe would have to fight the courts to get it reversed and then have to prove that she hadn't started the process the first time on a whim.
The SGC must have had a couple of judges sleeping in their bed because there was no way in hell that custody issues like this were handled nearly this quickly for normal people, John had decided. It had taken nearly seven months for his parents divorce to become finalized, but it would take only about a week and half for Rodney to get custody of Emily in a legally binding way. It was going to make Chloe suspicious, and he was sure that there would be questions about it later.
Except the next day, Chloe called, and asked Rodney to pick Emily up at school because Jim was working late and couldn't pick her up and they only had the one car. Rodney had agreed, got the address for Emily's school and took the SUV.
That began a week long adventure.
With Chloe's permission and the assurance of Emily's teachers that she wouldn't fall behind, Chloe pulled Emily from classes for the rest of the week to spend time with Rodney. Chloe and Jim were always a phone call away and Rodney made sure that Emily got home at night to sleep in her own room.
They went to museums and shopping malls – pestering the people at both locations with random questions. At one of the museums with a science exhibit, Emily actually managed to make one of the guides cry because she wouldn't stop asking why with bright, sincere blue eyes and an aggravatingly demanding voice. Rodney had beamed with pride and then answered all of Emily's questions. (Though he'd struggled a little when she'd turned that same look and questioning tone of voice on him. John had just hung back and tried not to laugh out loud).
They went to the beach where Rodney complained loudly about skin cancer and the importance of sunscreen. And then had to close his eyes tightly at the sight of an overweight man in a Speedo while Emily made a face and John just looked away. But Rodney slathered Emily in his homemade sunscreen and began muttering protests while Emily dragged him into the water. Rodney got sunburnt, John got sand in places where he hadn't had sand in a long time, and Emily managed to get seaweed tangled in her hair – while still on shore, twenty feet away from the water edge.
Rodney took Emily to the movies. John had stayed home for that one, but Rodney had come back from dropping Emily off at Chloe's place wide eyed. Rodney had spent the next two hours ranting about the evil that was Disney and did John know just how many sexual references were in kid's movies? And there was no way in hell that he was ever going to let Emily watch another kid's movie that he had not previous screened before hand! John had just smirked, bundled Rodney in the quilt, and they watched the ocean rush in until they heard Eileen fussing around in the kitchen.
The trip to the zoo was seared in John's mind. It was supposed to have been a relaxing outing to let Rodney and Emily get to know one another better. And that's exactly what happened. Emily talked endlessly about school and her teachers and her violin lessons. She talked about her favourite animals and the million and one things she wanted to be when she grew up. At the top of that list was the fact that Emily wanted to be an astronaut. She wanted to explore space and maybe one day visit Mars. Rodney's face had become pinched while he tried not to tell her about Pegasus and everything that they had already found out about space.
But while Rodney had gone off to buy some ice cream, Emily had gone to see the polar bears. She scrambled to lean over the ledge looking down into the artificial habitat and was making the normal kind of noises he supposed a little girl was supposed to make at the sight of baby polar bears swimming in the water. Only a moment later, John's heart was racing and trying to break out of his chest when Emily – already bent double over the railing – slipped a little and gave a shriek. John had lunged forward and dragged her back and away, clutched tightly in his arms.
She'd protested loudly that she hadn't been about to fall into the waiting jaws of hungry baby polar bears. And John had muttered loudly that she attracted just as much trouble as Rodney did. That made her argue even more that she hadn't been about to fall – John was sure that she would keep up that argument until the day she died – but she didn't try to get out of his hold and she clung closely to him when he finally put her down.
That night Rodney took John's quilt and spread it out on the sand behind the house and spent hours pointing out the constellations that could be seen. He described to her the ones that they couldn't see and even went so far as to explain the stories behind the names. John had small panic attacks in the living room with his mother while he told her about Emily almost getting eaten alive by hungry baby polar bears. Eileen laughed until she cried. And Rodney came back from dropping Emily off with a sour look on his face. Chloe had given him the riot act about bed times.
John never told Rodney about Emily and the polar bears.
They went to Chloe's house on Saturday afternoon to have lunch with Chloe and Emily – Jim was working an extra shift that week. It was a limbo weekend, all the forms having been signed and sent to their respective lawyers the day before and expected to be pushed through a judge – who was no doubt being pulled out of another back pocket from the SGC – on Monday. It was also going to be the last weekend that Emily would be officially living with Chloe and Jim, since the plan was to move her out on the Tuesday.
Considering the way things had been going for the past week, John should have been expecting a scene or an explosion or an all out war. Life in Pegasus had conditioned him to that sort of thinking – when things were going well they were bound to get ugly soon.
But he hadn't thought about it. Hadn't even been prepared for seeing Chloe standing on the front porch with her arms crossed, looking about ready to rip someone a new one. Rodney had taken one look at Chloe, turned to John with a 'brace yourself' expression and marched up the walk to the front door.
"You know you are one right son of a bitch, Rodney McKay," Chloe greeted them. Her foot was tapping a quick beat on the wooden step. "What the hell kind of game are you playing now?"
When Rodney didn't answer right away, Chloe came down the steps and jabbed Rodney in chest. "Who the hell do you think you are to have some bunch of goons come and threaten me? You think you're going to ride in here and then just make me disappear? Is that what you think is going to happen, Rodney? Because you got another thing coming if that's the way you thought things were going to pan out."
John took a step back, trying to distance himself from what was obviously going to be a very personal argument. He didn't want to interfere, not when he and Rodney had just gotten their own issues worked out. But Chloe caught his slight backwards movement and rounded on him while Rodney stood there red faced. "And you," Chloe snapped, side stepping Rodney and striding towards John. "Did you have something to do with that damn phone call I got? You're in the Air Force, part of the same military division Rodney had been working with before. Did you just tag along so you could figure out the best buttons to push and strings to pull?"
Chloe was winding up for another round when Rodney grabbed her arm and spun her about to face him. "Who called you?" he demanded.
"Like you don't know who called me!" Chloe responded hotly.
Rodney grabbed Chloe's other arm and held on tightly. John could see the other man's knuckles turning white. There would be marks. "When have you ever known me to fake ignorance about anything?" Rodney countered. "Who called you?"
Chloe jerked herself free and took a half step back, not because she seemed afraid that Rodney would hurt her, but because she appeared to want space to gesture. "Who the hell do you think called me Rodney? After our little talk last week, how could there be any doubt in your mind who called! Was that part of the act too? They're real, Chloe. You didn't imagine them," she mimicked Rodney's voice. "That's what you said and then told me that it didn't matter that no one would ever believe me, because you wanted me to know that I was right and they were wrong."
Rodney closed his eyes and took in a deep breath. "NID or IOA?" he asked.
John blinked at Rodney before understanding finally hit and John turned away from both of them to look over the empty streets. His hand was already slipping under his t-shirt at the small of his back, hand wrapping around the skin warmed butt of his gun.
"What does it matter?" Chloe asked hysterically. "Your plan was to find out what kind of crazy I am and use it to push me that much closer to the edge so that if I don't agree you can get the courts to back you!" This time she did step forward and shoved Rodney back a step, both hands planted firmly on his chest, with each word. "Well" – shove "It's" – shove "Not" – shove "Going" – shove "To work!" – shove.
Rodney stumbled on the steps and landed on his ass, but he was back on his feet just as quickly, if more gracefully. "And just what the hell is it I'm planning?" Rodney demanded. "At least tell me that much before you decide to up and disappear on me again!"
Chloe looked as though Rodney had slapped her. John figured Rodney might as well have, considering his tone of voice. But he wasn't concerned about the fight itself at the moment. Getting the two of them out of the open before it came to blood shed or before someone from the NID or IOA or whoever the fuck was more important. "Rodney," John warned as a dark car with tinted windows rolled around the street corner. But they weren't listening to him any more.
"Don't you dare get all offended on me," Rodney snapped advancing on Chloe.
Chloe didn't back down and soon they were toe to toe. "You're trying to take her away from me!"
"You're the one that that took her from me in the first place!" Rodney bellowed.
"But at least I didn't go through the courts to have your paternal rights dissolved!"
That stopped Rodney cold, because when John turned back at the sudden silence, Rodney's face was ashen.
John took advantaged of the sudden stillness and ordered them both into the house. "Get in the house." Chloe turned to stare at him, John could feel her gaze burning into his back, but whatever she had been about to say when John turned to face her was stopped when she saw the gun in his hand. Her eyes flickered over to the dark car that had stopped a little ways up the street and she turned back to John. "Now," he said, using the same tone of voice that usually got McKay to drop whatever piece of technology he was working on and turn to run for the Gate when they were off world.
Once the three of them were in the house John put the gun back into the inner pants holster at the small of his back. Emily was called in from playing in the back yard tree house – where she had some how not heard the shouting match between Rodney and Chloe in the front yard. The little girl was too perceptive to not notice the tension in the house and she stuck close to Chloe for a little while before she shimmed over to John where he was looking out the window watching the car.
Rodney got Chloe calmed down enough to tell him about the phone call. It took a little while to get the entire story out of her, but they eventually got the details. Someone claiming to be part of the IOA had called that morning to demand that Chloe give up her parental rights to Emily as soon as the paper work went through the judge. They threatened to put her into an institution if she refused to comply with their demands.
Emily and John were in another room while Rodney got that out of Chloe. Emily was quiet the entire time, her blue eyes wide and watchful. She was sitting on the floor next to where John was standing to look out the window.
"Is that a gun?" Emily finally asked in a soft voice.
John glanced down at the little girl. There was no point in lying to her. John hadn't bothered to put his shirt back over the butt of the gun. It would be easier to reach for the weapon this way. Not as easy as with a thigh holster, but easier. "Yes," he told her.
"How come you have a gun?" she asked.
John licked his lips and considered for a moment. Kneeling down next to the girl he asked. "Did your mom or Jim ever tell you about bad people? People who might want to hurt you?" He assumed the answer to be a yes. Chloe was too paranoid to not have lectured Emily about strangers and Jim seemed to have read one too many parenting manuals for his own good.
"Yeah," she answered in a small voice. "Is that why you have a gun? Because of bad people?"
John nodded slowly. "Yes. I do a lot of dangerous things for my job and there are bad people who want to hurt me or hurt your dad," he explained. "So I carry a gun to protect us from them."
Emily considered him for a moment before she asked her next question. "Does my Daddy carry a gun too?"
John wanted to close his eyes and sigh. Because Rodney carried a gun. Rodney knew how to use a handgun and a P-90 and a few other weapons of choice – including Ronon's gun. "Yeah, he's got a gun too."
"When I go to live with you and Daddy, am I going to have to have one?" She looked scared at the prospect.
John wanted to reach out and hug her. Wanted to reassure her that everything would be okay. He wanted to give her the useless lies of comfort any adult would give to a child. But Emily was Rodney's daughter and she'd see through the lies. So he told her the truth. "That depends," he answered, shifting to sit on the floor next to her, his feet stretched out before them. "If we get permission to bring you with us to the base where we live, you'll have to learn how to use a gun one day. But not until you are much older."
"And if you don't get permission to go back there?"
John smiled a little. "Then you'll never have to see another one after today."
They were quiet for a long time after that. John was pushing himself up from the floor to check the window again when Emily asked softly, "You and Daddy want to be able to go back to the base where you live, don't you?"
"Yeah," John answered hesitantly.
"And you might not be able to because of me."
"That'll be okay too," John told her. "There aren't a lot of other children on the base where we are. So even if we can bring you with us, we might not." John didn't think it was likely. If Elizabeth was able to get permission for them to start bringing their families to Atlantis, Rodney would bring Emily with him no matter what kind of protests Chloe might toss in his way.
"Is my daddy your boyfriend?" John choked on his spit. "Jim told me that sometimes boys don't always like girls, but like other boys instead, and sometimes girls like other girls too. He said that it was okay and that it was just as special as when it's a boy-girl relationship."
She looked up at him with Rodney's blue eyes and John could read the question she was really asking. She wanted to know if she was going to have a family when they all moved away. She was going to leave behind everything she knew and everything she loved and she wanted to know if there was going to be at least one thing familiar in a new and unfamiliar place.
John just couldn't believe that it was him having this conversation with Emily. Either Fate was being a real bitch for something he had done, or else she was giving them the easy way out because Rodney might not be able to answer this question so well. Crouching back down, John took the moment the movement offered to consider his options. Finally, staring eye to eye with the frightened girl he made his choice.
"I wouldn't say that I'm your dad's boyfriend," John began. He watched a little of her hope falter at that. "See, I'm in the Air Force, and the military doesn't always understand that it's alright for boys to like other boys and girls to like other girls. They think that everyone should be in boy-girl relationships. So me being with your dad means that it's something special. Something neither of us will give up without a fight. So I'm a little more than just your dad's boyfriend. I'm his partner, just like he's mine."
She chewed her lip before she squeezed out her next response. "Jim told me that my daddy had been looking for me and that he'd finally found us after a long time looking. He said that mommy and him were going to send me to live with my daddy because they thought it was going to be the best for me," she confided with a quivering voice. "That he'd love just as much as they loved me, only he'd be able to do things that they couldn't – like help with my school stuff and make sure that I got to do all the things they can't afford to let me do. Mommy told me that it was a little bit her fault that Daddy hadn't found me before now. And I heard Jim and Mom talking one night about how Jim hadn't really wanted kids," her voice caught on the last part. "And how this would be good for both of them too and I know I'm not supposed to be listening to conversations that are supposed to be private but…"
"Hey," John said, giving in and reaching for the little girl. Because she babbling like Rodney babbled when he was scared or nervous and this John knew how to deal with even if seeing her cry made something twist inside of his chest. "Hey, it's okay," he told her when he felt her body stiffen against him.
"I know my Daddy wants me because he was looking for me and he said that I could call him dad because he'd like that, because he wanted a daughter not another little person friend. And… do you want me too?"
"Yes," John answered with a hiss of breath because the teary sound of her voice made him want to find Jim and give him a black eye for saying he'd never wanted kids where Emily could hear him. "Yes, I want you too." And just like that, she wrapped her arms around him – believing his words for truth the way only an innocent or a child could believe.
And it was true.
"Elizabeth!" Rodney shouted from the kitchen a little while later.
John looked down at Emily and smiled a little. "Come on. Let's go see what's happening in the kitchen."
Standing they made their way into the other room only to catch the tail end of one of Rodney's rants. Chloe was sitting numbly in a kitchen chair and opened her arms that Emily moved quickly into. "—call off the goons. They had no right to interfere like this again. And as soon as I find out which brainless idiot planned this I'm going to do something terrible to them!"
Rodney paused for a moment and then barked out, "I don't care! Find out who did this and tell them to stop! It won't make anything more difficult in the end. I've already explained how things might end up if I get my way and I can move Emily out to the base with me!"
There was another pause and John moved forward to grab Rodney's arm when all the blood drained from his face and his hand went slack on the cell phone clutched to his ear. John caught the cell and man-handled Rodney into the other empty chair before bringing the phone to his own ear. "Elizabeth?" he asked.
"John! Thank God! Is Rodney alright?" Elizabeth's voice sounded tinny over the little phone, but the concern came through clearly.
"He's fine, just a little in shock, I think," John answered, glancing over where Rodney was sitting, except Rodney had moved over to where Emily was still sitting with her mother and was whispering something to the little girl. John couldn't see Rodney's face. "Mind telling me what's going on?"
"Someone in the IOA jumped the gun and apparently has been trying to make things easier, if what Rodney told me is true," Elizabeth responded. "I just got out of a very long meeting with the board members and some of the brass so I have no idea what the rest of the committee members have been up to."
Elizabeth paused for a heartbeat before she told him. "John, I got permission from the board and the military to allow families in Atlantis."