Dr. Spock's The Geek's and Goon's Guide to Baby and Child Care
revised edition because, contrary to popular belief, Dr. Spock was not a Vulcan
child (chaild), noun, 1:a young human; baby 2:a descendant 3: someone who acts in a childish or immature way. 4:one who is considered to be the natural product of particular times or circumstances.
Goon's Addendum: Many of you may be wondering why we need to have a guide that addresses caring for children. After all, we are on a dangerous expedition, not running a daycare. And yet, how many times have you referred to your job as babysitting the Geeks? The fact of the matter is, Geeks and kids are a lot alike… temperamental, self-centered, always hungry, believe whining is considered a second language, and have a tendency for having to go to the bathroom at the absolute worst times. The good news is, just like with children, most problems with your assigned Geek can be solved with a snack, a new toy, and good old-fashioned distraction… plus, unlike an infant, you rarely have to change his diapers. As with little ones, do your best to keep your Geek away from open flames, sharp edges, and loaded weapons, although that isn't always possible. And, keep in mind, chances are, if you can't hear him, he's up to no good, which is why you should never let your Geek out of your sight. Just remember that caring for your Geek isn't rocket science, but it does require constant vigilance. It can be exhausting but it is equally as rewarding. A Geek can test your endurance, have your hair turning prematurely gray, and drive you to thoughts of violence. But with a little patience and hard work and forethought, your Geek will be a source of endless joy. And if all else fails, never underestimate the power of a pudding cup.
Geek's Addendum: Goon's can be among the most immature creatures in the universe. Big babies! They come across as all smug and know- it-all and 'oh, Dr. Spock and Mr. Spock are two separate people.' Well, of course they're two different people. Christ! No self-respecting acolyte of the Holy Church of Rodenberry would make a rookie mistake like that. I mean, God forbid you refer to your Goon as a Kirk who treats every female he comes across as his own personal green-skinned Barbie in go-go boots and miniskirt. Actually, that would be an improvement over leather-clad bimbos who fancy themselves as fucking space pirates. Well, let me tell you something, Sunshine, you're no Jack Sparrow. In fact, I've seen strippers with more panache... Hey, is that a ZedPM and pudding cup?
The day was for shit…same as they'd been for the past two days. But right now it was bright and clear, a little breezy. Warm. Nice.
I was tired and I deserved a little rest. I folded arms and held my face up to the sun….which is when I heard it. The squawk and then the thump. The horrible thump. I dropped my eyes and looked at the balcony. Teetering against the edge, he sat, blue eyes wide and an annoyed seagull flapping at the hair sticking up on his head. Then he tumbled. Tumbled right over. Same wide blue eyes, same pale skin. Same perfectly round surprised mouth.
I lunged to the edge. It was so far down I couldn't hear the splash, but I imagined it. The body sinking beneath the waves, those blue eyes disappearing into the depths. The mouth still open.
Just like his daddy there.
"Oh, shit," I grimaced. "Oh shit."
There was the voice of doom behind me as McKay strode through the door, swatting at nonexistent insects. "Where's Rodney Junior?" Rodney Senior demanded.
I kept looking into the water as if by sheer mental power I could make him fly back up or at least pop back into the past and put a pair of waterwings on him….but it didn't happen. There was nothing but far distant blue water. Empty blue water.
And believe it or not, this wasn't the worst part of the past few days. Not by a long shot.
I think the worst part actually started weeks ago with the line that wrapped around the floor and down the stairs and around the floor again. "Is this the line for Santa? Or is it time for Star Wars Seven already? Or wait. The new Star Trek movie…when they're in the Academy, right? Star Trek with zits. "
"Trekkie goon– my secret shame." Rodney rolled his eyes and kept trudging past the fidgeting figures, his chin up, and arms folded. "They sent a new psychiatrist. This one has a degree from Harvard and Oxford. They were going to send a team, Sam informs me, but the military budget wouldn't allow it. So it starts again. Kavanagh is first in line and Radek is second. I lost count at twenty-seven after that."
"A team," I snorted. "They could bring in Dr. Hannibal Lecter and not straighten these guys out."
"Straighten them out?" Rodney slid me a sideways look that said thanks for not 'catching' that the team was for him and his machinations. He quirked his lips. "Because there's not a damn thing wrong with me, right? No coal in my stocking this year?"
"Not a chunk in sight." I saw Ronon hiding behind a large brushy potted tree in the line and shook my head at him. 'Coward,' I mouthed. I thought I saw Teyla, but the long blond wig threw me off track. Could be Teyla, could be Dolly Parton. Chuck the gate tech was flattened against the wall like a gecko who thought he could change his color and escape detection.
Rodney saw him and growled. He hadn't been fond of Chuck since the brainwashing incident, never mind it was all my fault. Rodney loved me. Rodney did not love Chuck. Therefore he would glare at Chuck. Worked for me.
"Calling ticket 15. Calling ticket 15." I surreptitiously checked the small paper cupped in my hand. Damn. Looked like I was going to miss my turn. I tilted my head towards Rodney and said, "Hey , if everyone's here, no one's guarding the pudding cups in the cafeteria. Let's go clean the place out a la Butch and Sundance."
"I don't think Butch and Sundance would have said a la, but you're on." The quirk of the lips widened. "Although maybe Butch. He was a genius. A schemer. Much smarter than his partner." He snatched the 15 from my hand, wadded it and tossed it over his shoulder. "You keep remembering how good you have it or the big bed and handcuffs disappear. Got that, Sundance?"
That big bed and handcuffs had been with us a long time now. I was actually thinking it was time for an upgrade, maybe put that on my Santa wish list, but that wasn't the point. I'd actually been hoping to combat some of the damage done by the long line of McKay complainants, and where had Radek found that ticket dispenser anyway? Probably the same place he found the muzak machine that was piping in easy listening versions of Christmas carols. Unfortunately, the Henry Mancini Orchestra version of Silent Night wasn't as soothing as it should have been.
"No. NOOOOOOOOOOOO. I can't wait any longer!"
A body fell through the air and thumped at our feet. A number 23 wafted from its twitching hand. He groaned…six feet from the staircase isn't really that far to fall…and mumbled, "I think I sprained my shoulder."
Okay, sure, Rodney yelled….a lot. But he yelled to get people moving and save the galaxy. And, granted, sometimes the yelling was for pickle sandwiches, Kleenex, foot massages, someone to bring him dinner, a sweater because it was cold, and someone else's computer as he'd spilled coffee on his…but all those things kept him capable of saving the galaxy. Surely, that was plain to see. Surely, anyone could see that in that Grinchy exterior resided a heart three sizes too big.
Rodney snorted, stepped over the body and kept going, "Dr Lecter is going to be missing a sugarplum pudding cup this evening. All right, Sundance, let's hit the cafeteria.
It took a week to process everyone (minus me…Rodney didn't let me out of sight for one beady-eyed second…A) he thought it was pointless trying to get the guy on our side and B) he thought he'd thoroughly rid me of my kamikaze ways and didn't want anyone tampering with his work.) Another two weeks to study the information and then we were summoned. At the door. Rodney sighed and banged hard on it. "This is the Dr. Rodney McKay. I'm ready to destroy your life, your ego and any scrap of belief in your educational system that you may have once had. So let us in."
If that was the Canadian version of 'Hi', the Canadians were a long-winded people, I thought with amusement.
The door slid open. I tried for a little more charm and hopefully enough so that the doctor didn't commit Rodney for life to a bouncy rubber room. "Hey, we heard there's a new sheriff in town. How you liking Atlantis so far?" I peered inside and blanched. Holy shit.
It was Hannibal Lecter…in female form.
"You go first," I whispered to Rodney. "You'll take longer to cook."
Rodney's Nana was legend. In the family, in her home town, to the local fire and rescue department that would've shuddered and crossed themselves at her name if they were Catholic, but most of all, she was legend in Rodney's mind.
He might've had a complicated relationship with his parents (cheerfully known as those bastards by me) and a grudgingly affectionate one with Jeannie, but if anyone had wholeheartedly embraced an admittedly bomb-prone kid, it was Nana. Two peas in an exploding pod. She blew up microwaves like a kid with firecrackers. In fact, I think she invented something doing that that's being installed on some of the new jets.
She was four feet six, had, lavender hair, a matching velour jogging suite, a small schnauzer that hit the doggy door to the bomb shelter in the basement in a flash, and she had Rodney wrapped around her wrinkly little pinky.
Dr. Lecter…shit, I meant Dr. Leander was four feet seven, gray haired with a tint of lavender, and a uniform in the same color lavender wrapping her chubby form. She beamed and waved her hand. "Boys, welcome. Have a seat. Careful you don't squash Freud there, Colonel." I looked and there was a small gray poodle wearing a red sweater covered in white snowflakes baring its teeth at me in the nearest chair. Crap. They really had put a team together. Just not here. They must've done it on Earth. Studied Rodney up one side and down the other to see who he would most cooperate with. Apparently they were out of hot Air Force Colonels with a math bent that day and made due with Nana version 2.0.
"But…." Rodney looked at her eyes that were blue and hazy behind spectacles.
"Now let's get straight to it." She patted her hand in the air for Rodney to sit. "You can't honestly expect anyone here to be half as bright as you, Meredith. It wouldn't be fair or logical and you're nothing if not a logical man, yes?"
"But…" His hand waved blindly for a chair.
"You're a scientist and the best of scientists knows how to get the best work out of their tools, yes?" She folded her hands and I was just waiting for the bawdy wink over the word 'tool' as the real Nana would've done. I didn't get it, but I imagined it and twitched.
"But…" Rodney all but fell into his chair.
"So this is what we're going to do…..
Twenty minutes later the door closed behind us and Rodney looked down at his chest and blinked. "Okay, what the fuck am I doing carrying a goddamn egg in a baby harness?"
I had an egg on my chest.
In a baby carrier.
What the fuck had just happened to me?
"Is Loki in the neighborhood? Because I think I just experienced lost time."
John gave a somewhat apologetic shrug. I wasn't really sure what he was apologizing for other than evidently standing by and letting this happen to me. And since there were no dead bodies in sight or blood splatter anywhere on his person, that was apparently exactly what he had done.
"Dr. Leander thinks this is a good exercise for you to be responsible for the well being of something else."
"I'm responsible for the well being of this entire goddamn expedition." One of the chemists, the guy who always smelled like burning tires, walked by with the female anthropologist who complained at every staff meeting about the lack of paper towels in the labs, and I pointed an irate finger in their direction. "Every useless member of it. Including the Michelin Man and his whiny-ass, spill-prone friend there."
John winced at my outburst before continuing on in that calming tone that just made me want to throttle him. "She thinks that maybe being responsible for something that requires more of a delicate touch might help you be a little more delicate in the way you handle others. Especially since none of the other sensitivity training has been… effective." (i.e. I had failed every stinking one of those stupid classes to the point that two of the instructors had asked for transfers and one had threatened legal action.) When I glared at him, he reminded with hands raised, "Hey, you agreed to it."
Agreed to it? He had to be joking. We had gone into the room, the psychiatrist started talking about how I knew how to get what I needed out of my staff, and then I was flashing back to when I was ten years old, squatting behind the overturned picnic table in Nana's backyard, while she pushed the plunger on the detonation device and took out the giant satellite dish in her neighbor's backyard that was blocking her telescope's view of the apartment complex a block away. At the time, I never understood why she was so interested in that building, I just loved a first-rate explosion and Nana was always good for one of those. It was a few more years before I shifted the lenses off the apartment where two guys in their twenties lived to the flight attendants who resided above them. That's when things finally started falling into place… and I started asking to spend the night at Nana's more often.
But things were most definitely not falling into place now. John claiming I had agreed to babysit an egg? He was off his fucking rocker. And I had apparently blacked out in Nana… I mean, Leander's office.
The door to said office slid open and the psychiatrist in question walked out, poodle wedged under one arm and electronic pad under the other. "So, how are we doing, boys? So far, so good?"
I smiled, patted confidently at the pouch on my front and agreed, "So far, so good."
"Excellent! I'm off to the cafeteria before someone takes the last of the caramel puddings again. I'll see you soon, Meredith." She started off with a smile and I would have sworn I could smell the familiar scent of cordite, maple syrup, and Aqua Net… it was the most comforting aroma of my childhood and I suddenly found myself sitting beside Nana on her couch mocking the contestants on Jeopardy for being such morons for not knowing the ratio of Jupiter's circumference compared to the Earth's.
"Rodney? You okay?"
John's voice jarred me back to reality and I looked around in a near panic. Nana… I mean, Leander was nowhere in sight. Crap, I'd blacked out again.
"What were we talking about before… she…" I twirled a hand in the direction the psychiatrist had headed.
"That you agreed to do this. In fact, you just told her everything was fine."
"Do I seem fine to you?" I challenged. "I would never in a million years agree to something like this. Christ, look at me. Look at me!" I waved a frantic hand at the baby carrier. "I look like a goddamn marsupial. I don't do kids. You know that. And I especially don't do babies, not even unborn bird babies. Hell, I don't even say the word baby unless I'm insulting someone or talking about high precision machinery." With a bobble of my head, I backtracked. "Except that one time with you, but we were drunk off our asses and the Starsky and Hutch DVDs finally got to me, and I can not be held responsible for that!"
My voice rose about an octave and cracked on that last part as I jabbed a finger hard into Sheppard's chest. And that's when the hallway seemed to tilt.
"Rodney, it's only two weeks. You'll be fine. It'll be over and done with by the time we meet up with Jeannie and her family over New Years. Besides, it might be good practice for your niece."
"Two weeks? Two weeks?" I couldn't seem to get any air into my lungs with the short, rapid breaths I was taking. "I've never committed to anything other than you for more than two weeks."
"You've been committed to Atlantis since before you met me," he argued, taking my arm and leading me out onto the nearest balcony for some fresh air. "And evidently the SGC thinks this should be part of your commitment to the expedition. You'll be fine. This is a piece of cake."
Bracing myself against the railing, I looked out across waves and tried to breathe deeper. The large sea birds that nested in the city swooped in formation before diving below the surface and I wondered absently if one of them had laid the egg on my chest. Fresh eggs from Earth were a rarity; we got by on the military-issue powdered variety most of the time. And given the over-sized nature of the one I was now responsible for, I knew there was no chicken lamenting its absence from the nest. When it came to lamenting, I was another story, and I stared longingly at the dark blue-green stretching to the horizon.
Any minute now. Any minute now Moby Dick was going to surface and eat me off the balcony, and this nightmare was going to be over.
Any minute now…
Any fucking minute.
"Jesus, McKay, you're going to bend the metal if you don't let up on your grip."
Where the hell was that damn whale when you needed it?
"What…" I panted. "What am I supposed to do… with… it."
"Keep it whole, make sure it's taken care of at all times. She'll check up on you randomly to see that you're keeping up with your part of the bargain." John furrowed his brow in worry. "You really don't remember?"
"If I remembered, would I be asking your sorry ass?" I snapped, trying to control my breathing and failing miserably.
"Why are you getting pissed at me? I didn't have anything to do with this."
"Yes, you did," I challenged. "You were there… and you didn't stop it. You're supposed… to protect me. The vows said so… You're supposed to protect me…even against psychological warfare. Especially then… And that's… exactly… what this is."
"Look, if you feel this strongly about it, then don't do it. Just tell her to take a flying leap and you won't do it."
My eyes widened in shock that he would suggest such a thing, sending the spots that were forming before them into a dizzying spiral. "I can't tell her that!"
"You tell everyone else no all the time. Why not her?"
"Because she's… she's…" I drifted off helplessly, my rapid breathing now full-blown hyperventilation.
If anyone knew how to handle psychiatrists, it was me. I'd ruined the reputation of several, broken the will of dozens, and completely stumped twice as many more. I could twist them, manipulate them, or downright bully them into giving me exactly what I needed, be that a psych clearance back to work or a simple afternoon's entertainment. No matter what the reason or situation, when it came to therapists, I was always firmly in control.
They'd broken me. Those sons of bitches had finally found a way to break me. Because they'd thrown Nana at me and I'd rather cut off my arm than let her down. And with that realization, the spots coalesced into a wall of solid black.
"Rodney?" John gritted out as I felt his hands grip tightly into my biceps, then I felt his shoulder under my cheek.
Somewhere in between John calling my name and calling a medical team, I also heard a sickening cracking sound. And my last thought was, Nana is going to be so disappointed.
When I woke again I was in the infirmary, John's hand wrapped around mine, and a distinctly yellow-tinted stain drying on the front of his shirt. Looking down at my own chest, I saw a matching smear of yolk.
"How're you feeling?" he asked with an expression teetering between amusement and sympathy.
"Does she know?" I groaned.
From the opposite side, Carson chirped in. "Six minutes. Dr. Leander says that's a world record in her books for killing your wee egg. Maybe she'll let you hard-boil the next one to make it a bit more resilient. Although that wouldn't exactly be too accurate if you're theoretically the mother. I suppose you can always pretend it takes after its father." He grinned cheerfully at Sheppard who just rolled his eyes.
But I had keyed in on what he'd said at the beginning. "Next one?" I asked John in dread. "She's going to make me try again?"
"She already dropped it off," John informed me with an upbeat smile as he took the egg from the bedside table. "Heads up."
He tossed it to me lightly, the act catching me completely off guard, so that the egg bounced twice in my hands as I juggled to hold on to it before landing on the mattress and promptly rolling off the bed and dropping several feet to land on Carson's shoe.
The three of us stared in stunned silence at the yellow oozing off the physician's foot. "Fifteen seconds," Carson noted dryly, turning his attention back to a note he was making in his electronic tablet. "Leave it to you, Rodney, to outdo yourself yet again."
Dropping my head back on my pillow, I sighed. Who would have thought I'd actually miss the Athosian Groundhog of Doom? This was going to be the longest two weeks of my life.
Rodney wasn't speaking to me. Rodney. Not speaking. Not yelling. Not badgering. Not screaming bloody murder. Fathom that for a moment. Rodney was so furious that he literally wasn't speaking to me. It boggled. I would've taken an oath on my life that in this or any of the infinite alternate goatee-sporting universes out there that that would never happen. Well, color me egg yolk yellow because it had happened. Since I tossed him the second egg and watched it go down quicker than Goose in Top Gun, he wouldn't say a word. He simply glared molten fury as he got out of the infirmary bed and headed out the door.
I grimaced at Carson who beamed like a department store Santa. "It's not funny."
"Oh, lad." He shook his head. "I think when you hear the gales of laughter echoing around Atlantis, you'll know differently."
"And how is anyone going to find out?" I asked as I carefully stepped over Rodney the third…deceased.
"Because I plan on telling every person I see, that's why." Still beaming, he disappeared out the door after Rodney.
Well…hell. It wasn't like I could shoot Carson…not and get away with it anyway. So I trudged back to Dr. Na…er…Leander's office to explain the whole mess and see if she'd agree to going from an egg to maybe something slightly less delicate…like a rock. But it turned out Rodney had already beaten me there. He stood hangdog as Dr. Na..er…oh fuck it, as Dr. Nana faced him with pursed lips and a disappointed swoop to her gray eyebrows. "Two eggs in six minutes and fifteen seconds, Meredith? Is this true?"
"If you don't count the time I was unconscious, yes." His shoulders slumped. Dr. Rodney I'll-kick-the-balls- off-any-man-between-me-and-a-ZPM-into-the-atmosphere-McKay, and he'd name the constellation of testicles in their new gravitational orbit after himself. That was Rodney. This was not. And he was right. I had made some vows and if I don't specifically remember any mention regarding psychological warfare by old women, I guess my attention drifted for a second. But now….
I grabbed the back of Rodney's shirt yanked him out of the room and closed the door in his gaping face. It was just me and Dr. Nana now. She stood, placed hands on her desk and leaned in, blue eyes somewhat similar to Rodney's and hard as stone. I took the same position, but the first shot. "The guy with dreds eats dogs," I drawled. "Loves 'em and he hasn't had one in a long, long time."
Her gaze narrowed and all the marshmallow sweetness of her melted away instantly. "Try again, Colonel. I believe that would've come up in his file when he was on the run from…the…Wraith." She slowed down as she flashed that big Harvard Oxford brain back to rescan the files in her no doubt photographic memory that said Ronon had eaten anything to survive.
She scooped up Freud and glared every bit as good as Rodney or Nana would have. "What do you want?"
"I want you to pass him so we can get on with things around here," I growled. "And stop messing with him. He's like Dr. Evil with narcolepsy. Every time you open your mouth his brain shuts off. Just leave him alone."
"And that's it? The sum total of what you want?" She tapped a stubby lavender painted nail on the desk. "Hmmm. No. Won't do. But I will make a helluva compromise and give you this." There was some definite kick-ass under that marshmallow. She was more like Nana than they even knew.
I walked out of the room a few minutes later to face the still eerily silent Rodney. "Everything's fixed." I smiled brightly. I put the new baby harness on him. It contained a carton of powdered eggs, a slightly sturdier version of the real thing. I'd already used Dr. Nana's markers to make big blue eyes and a wide-open pink mouth on the shiny cardboard.
I tilted my head at the last one. "It didn't occur to me until I was done that part looked slightly pornographic. I just wanted it open to show, you know, you might speak to me again. Sometime in the future. I don't know—maybe before the sun dies and the solar system boils then freezes." I patted Rodney Junior (technically Rodney IV but I had a feeling if we counted, it would make things look worse in the end.) "Before he graduates from college."
The door started to open behind us and I turned him and quickly pushed him down the hall. I didn't want to face Dr. Nana on her turf again, not this soon. I'd come out ahead, more or less, but we had two weeks to go of Rodney keeping his offspring alive. And chances of that happening were much better when he was upright and conscious…something our new psychiatrist didn't seem to inspire in him.
"What…who…?" He glared at me. "Where did the infirmary go? Wasn't I just there? And wasn't there an egg…."
I got to him before his eyes started to roll back. "Nope. No egg. Never was an egg. You must've been dreaming. Did you see the whale?" I kept pushing and got him around a corner and into a transport. The doors closed and I relaxed. "Dr. Leander decided our work on Atlantis is too physical in its nature for a real egg. So she went for the carton. See?" I patted Rodney Junior again innocently.
He looked down. "Oh, for the love of all that is holy in Einstein-Newtonian physics. I look like a walking blow up doll. Radek will attack me in the lab." He reached in his pocket and pulled out a pen and gave the mouth sharp jagged teeth and the eyes a sharp V of eyebrows. It was dead on Rodney in the middle of an all nighter lab bitch session. I wiped at my eye. "Looks just like his dad," I said solemnly.
"Shut up, Sheppard. Somehow this is your fault and when I figure out how to mangle logic and reason and find out how it is your fault, you'll be ordering a blow up doll of your own." He folded arms and leaned against the wall like this was a five minute elevator ride instead of an instantaneous 'bang you're there' one…the soothing choral version of Little Drummer Boy being piped in through the intercom system only helped to reinforce the illusion… and either of which would've interested me now. It'd been a long time since I'd gotten a 'shut up, Sheppard' in that tone.
I gave him a predatory grin. "Kind of like the old days, isn't it, McKay?" Back in the days when pent up sexual tension could've out-energized any ZPM in the vicinity. Don't ask, don't tell. Holding back for his own good, for Atlantis's good…back in the days when we got in each other's pants verbally. Yep, love that fucking auld lang syne. I jumped him only to be slammed to a halt by a hand on my chest.
"Infants need personal space," he said immediately. "Lots and lots of personal space lest their powdered brains explode out of the top of their head. So…." He flipped his hand in a back off motion.
"The damn harness comes off when you sleep, doesn't it?" I growled.
There was a glint in the original blue eyes. "We'll see. If you haven't killed Junior by then." The glint sharpened, but it had gone from something sexual to something maybe even more satisfying in Rodney's book: being right. "Because you were the one who caught me when I passed out, killing Rodney Junior number one. Am I correct about that? You chose that particular position to catch me. You couldn't have turned me and had by back to your chest. Oh no. You chose to catch me that way, didn't you?"
"Yes, your Honor," I said glumly, knowing there was no use in arguing. Rodney would import some sort of CSI tech to take an egg scraping off the front of my uniform if I did.
"So it was your fault. I knew it." Thus fortified with the rightness of himself and his word, he stepped off the transporter and headed to the lab, humming under his breath.
Me? I banged my head against the wall of the transport, went home, beat off (rather appropriately with all the eggs around), and changed clothes. I gave it an hour and checked back at the lab just in time to see Radek pouring powdered eggs into a beaker. "Holy shit!" I lunged and grabbed the glass and started frantically pouring Rodney Junior back into his carton. "What the hell are you thinking?" I hissed. "Where's Rodney?"
"Papa Rodney is in restroom. Wouldn't want his chick in such unhygienic surroundings. So I take opportunity to make eggnog…feeling, how you say, festive." He beamed, adjusting the Santa hat on his head before moving to his glasses.
"Dr Z, psycho ancient teddy bear aspirations aside, do you really want to rule the world? Because if Rodney goes down, you're next in line to hold this whole place together. Do you want that kind of pressure? I don't think so."
He winced. "You may be correct. I apologize." He handed me the stapler, so when Rodney left the bathroom I was stapling the top of Junior's head shut.
"Um." I hid the staplers behind my back. "I know this looks bad, but it's not. At most Junior lost some weight. He was a little chunky anyway."
As Rodney wrote down one side of the carton DO NOT EAT EVER with one hand, he ejected me from the lab with the other. I think he felt I was less than helpful in the situation…over all. "But…" The door slid shut in my face just as I saw Rodney park his butt on a stool and stare unblinkingly at Junior. Focusing every ounce of his huge brain on that little carton. He was bound to keep it alive now. What could go wrong?
He could forget to keep someone else alive maybe?
By the time I made it home that night, I was sporting one hell of a headache along with a slightly lighter charge. Never-ending vigilance on something that is totally dependent on you for survival is hard, I decided, and I made a mental note to commend Jeannie when I saw her in a few weeks on the fact that Madison had remained uncracked and uneaten for so long.
As soon as I walked though the doorway, I was greeted with a mechanical, "Feliz Navidad!" I winced at the sound, my headache growing as the metal tree spun and blinked happily in the corner. I'd almost chucked the thing this year, almost told John I couldn't find it in storage, but I knew how much he loved it and I just gritted my teeth until the holidays were over for his sake. Although after the day I'd had, and him being the cause of most of it, I was tempted to turn it off for that reason alone.
John looked up from where he was reading a golfing magazine on the couch with a hesitant, "Hey," as he removed plugs from his ears.
"What's with the earplugs?"
"Oh… uh… Dr. Z's Christmas music in the halls was getting to me. I guess I just forgot I had them in," he dismissed before his eyebrows rose in question. "What happened to Rodney Junior?"
I sighed and ran my hand across the dark clumps of broom bristles standing out at all angles on top of the ridge of the powdered egg carton. "It was Radek's idea. He claimed it would be a reasonable excuse to explain the staples if Dr. Nana stopped by for a surprise inspection. And, I have to admit, it was a good idea. Although the fact that he now refers to it as Colonel Junior, makes me think his actions were less that altruistic."
"Joyeux Noel!" the tree exclaimed and I sat heavily on the sofa next to John. Maybe just for tonight we could turn it off, or I could accidentally push it off the balcony.
He patted my leg. "Just think, thirteen more days and we can celebrate with one hell of an omelet."
I groaned and rubbed between my eyes. "Thirteen more days? I'm not sure I can take thirteen more minutes."
With another pat to my leg, John tried for a brighter tone. "I have something for you, something to make it easier on you tonight." Grabbing my wrist, he stood and dragged me over to the bed. There on the floor at the foot sat a drawer from the dresser. It was lined with a towel and one of the cat's toys. "It's a baby bed, complete with blankey and stuffed animal." He held up the half-chewed catnip mouse before dropping it back in and patting the drawer. "This way Junior can get a good night's sleep."
I looked between him and the drawer and back again as a chipper, "Natale allegro!" sounded in the corner. "It's a container of powdered eggs, John. It doesn't sleep."
"It's a container of powdered eggs that's making you pass out and pass up blow jobs. Needless to say, I'm a bit concerned with your less than McKay-like behavior."
Opening my mouth, then closing it again, I finally asked him something that had occurred to me as I was snarling at Miko earlier when she walked within arm's reach of Junior. "Do you think the SGC is trying to get rid of me? I mean, I'm not entirely sure, but I think there's a no pay clause in my contract if I'm deemed mentally unstable."
John leaned forward and planted a quick kiss on my lips. "I think you've had a long stressful day and when you get some sleep you'll feel better and go back to being a megalomaniacal genius astrophysicist and not a megalomaniacal soccer mom."
"Sleep sounds… great," I told him with another rub at my forehead.
It had been one hell of a day, the fact that I had been blacked out during large chunks of it wasn't helping the thrumming behind my eyes any.
"Headache?" John asked sympathetically, rubbing thumbs into my neck.
"Oh, God, that feels good," I groaned, and even the tree's "Frohe Weihnachten!" didn't change that fact. I dropped my chin to my chest as he dropped a kiss at my hairline and I almost felt guilty about not letting him blow me earlier. I crinkled my nose when the dark bristles ticked there but the loosening of tight muscles under John's fingers was enough to keep me in that position. As his hands moved to work on my shoulders and lips moved behind my ear, I couldn't help but wonder what the hell I had been thinking turning down sex with him. Maybe I'd blacked out again then, too.
He kissed as he whispered huskily at my ear, "Then let's get you out of this contraption and into bed." With a few releases of latches, the baby carrier came free and John took the egg carton and put it in its makeshift crib, pulling the covers up over it until all that was visible were the hand-drawn eyes and its spiky hair. He stood again, wrapping his arm around my shoulder and far too solemn to be serious. "There, all tucked in."
We stood there like that for a few seconds, just staring at the irritated down-turned eyebrows peeking out of the blanket and the mohawk of bristles running along its head, and I couldn't help but grimace. "Christ, he's barely a day old and he's already an angry punk rocker. I thought that wasn't supposed to set in until their teen years."
"I blame society," Sheppard observed with a disillusioned shake of his head.
"I blame Radek."
He pushed me toward the bed. "As long as you're not blaming me, I'm satisfied."
I landed in a belly flop on the mattress, exhaling happily when John thought the lights down and the tree shut off mid "Merry Christmas!" He straddled my hips and continued his massage, hands running up under my shirt in broad warm strokes. "Am I really such an insensitive prick?" I mumbled into the pillow under my head.
"From my experience, your prick is anything but insensitive." He pushed the shirt up over my head and kissed along my shoulders before replacing lips with hands.
"So, what?" I snorted with eyes closed, losing myself in his touch. "I just sleep with everyone who complains about me and my problems will be solved?"
"That's one way to do it. Seeing as I'd have to shoot everyone you had sex with, I guess it would be a form of natural attrition."
I grinned in lazy contentment. "I love it when you turn from jealous bastard to homicidal maniac."
"What can I say, McKay? You have a way of bringing out the best in me."
"Well, then bring it out," I order with a sloppy wave of my hand. "Else I'm going to fall asleep before I get to reward you for your thoughtfulness with the crib."
He splayed out on top of me, arms wrapping around my own under the pillow, and sucked and nibbled on the back of my neck. "How could anyone not see how sensitive you are when you say romantic shit like that?"
The trail of kisses had a tingling current running from the base of my skull all the way down the length of my spine and I couldn't help the way my hips ground into the mattress. I groaned and John's mouth was at my ear. "Shhhhh. You'll wake the baby."
As his tongue flicked its way around the lobe, I growled, "Shut up, Sheppard, and take off your fucking clothes."
"Now, there's the Rodney McKay I know and love," he grinned as he tossed his shirt aside to be quickly followed by both our pants.
And wasn't I the lucky bastard to be known and loved by someone like him?
At some point in the night, I heard purring in my ear. It took a discontented meow for me to realize it wasn't John because, honestly, as sated as we both were when we fell asleep, I wouldn't have been the least bit surprised if it had been him. I opened my eyes to see Julie Newmar, my own little feline Catwoman, staring into my face. She mewled again before touching her nose to mine. John, who was pretty much sprawled across me, stirred in his sleep, shifting his leg between mine, and I realized, with him wrapped around me, there was no way I could take care of the cat without waking John.
With a gentle shove, I pushed her toward the edge of the bed. "Not now, Jules. Whatever it is, handle it yourself."
She meowed again, a little louder, and stepped onto my shoulder, and John mumbled into my chest, "Wha's matter?"
"Nothing," I assured him with a nuzzle to the top of his head. "Go back to sleep." Not that he was fully awake anyway. When he seemed to comply, I turned my attention back to the cat. "This jealous competition really needs to stop."
"Not jealous," John murmured in his sleep, but his arm tightened around me possessively.
I just rolled me eyes. "Of course you aren't," I assured before telling Julie, "You two are more alike than you know."
She stepped back in, exerting her assumed position of command and nudged at my jaw, and I pushed a little harder. "Down!" I whispered sharply and she finally complied and I drifted off to the sound of her clawing at her scratching post.
Or so I thought.
"Oh, you are dead meat this time." John's tone was somewhere between horror and happiness and had me opening my eyes the next morning to see him peering down onto the floor from the foot of the bed… where the egg carton had been put down for the night.
I sat bolt upright and demanded, "What?"
Sheppard did his best to look disgusted with what he saw, but he couldn't hide the glimmer of pleasure in his eyes as he pointed a finger and proclaimed, "She did it."
"Did what?" My voice climbed an octave as I scrambled down to the foot of the bed to see what John had discovered. "Oh, you are a bad, bad, kitty."
Jules was perched in the drawer, looking up at me in pure feline innocence as she was happily clawing Junior into shreds. "Stop!" She simply looked up at me and blinked slowly.
"Here, let me get a boot for you to throw at her," John offered eagerly.
I glowered and snapped, "You're not helping!"
"How is this my fault?"
Ignoring him, I snatching the cat off of the carton to survey the damage. "Oh, God, look at it." I held up the container only to watch as yellow powder sieved out the slices. "How? How does something like this happen?"
"All I have to say is, thank God neither one of us has any ovaries, McKay, or we'd be totally screwed."
"We? I think the baby would be the one up shit creek." Turning the container to stem the flow of Junior's innards, I studied the pile of powder in the bottom of the drawer. "Dr. Nana didn't weigh him before she handed him over, did she?"
"A diaper!" John exclaimed. "You can put a duct tape diaper on him, to cover the scars."
"Christ, I feel like I'm in a Lifetime movie about child abuse… When He Was Bad or For the Love of a Child."
"I think For the Love of a Breakfast Food is the more appropriate title."
"Once again, you are so not helping here." When the cat pounced back into the drawer and started digging in the mound of yellow I turned my annoyance on her. "And neither are you." But I stopped and stared when I saw her snatch the mangled toy mouse out of the mess… the mouse Sheppard had put in the damn drawer. "Oh my God, it is your fault!"
Julie Newmar pranced out of the drawer with the mouse and a swagger that would have put her namesake to shame and John's eyes narrowed in contempt of the cat before turning back to me in wide-eyed innocence. "She has ten more of those damn things scattered around the apartment. How the hell was I supposed to know she'd go after that particular one?"
"Not another word," I ground out. "Not one more word." He opened his mouth and I cut him off with a warning. "Does the term alimony payment mean anything to you?"
"Happy Christmas!" The tree exclaimed as the sunlight hit the sensor and it spun to life, but I was anything but happy and neither was John.
With a sigh, he stood, grabbed his pack and dug out the roll of duct tape, handing it over silently before heading into the bathroom. I watched him go and then turned back to repairing yet another set of damages done. There was a touch of guilt about how I'd snapped at John, but that was pretty much buried by the all out panic that had set in as I tried to scoop as much of the powder back into the damaged container before setting to work bandaging Junior up.
By the time John came out of the bathroom with wet hair and a towel around his waist, I was finished with my first aid, otherwise known as concealing the evidence. "You want me to watch him while you shower?" he offered weakly.
I snorted and pulled the container closer to my chest. "Not if you were the last person in the city," I told him stalking into the bathroom.
But by the end of the day, my story had changed.
It started with a cup of tea and ended with me lying on the floor wheezing and waiting for the medical team to arrive.
I had spent the entire day trying to split my attention between a project with the solar cells I'd been working on, a problem with the Jumper oxygen scrubbers Radek was working on, and the gate diagnostics McKellan was working on, all the while keeping a constant eye on the damn egg container. I had moved to McKellan's workstation, standing behind the woman as she brought up the latest readings that showed a three percent drift in the stability coefficients. Radek was also there and he and McKellan started arguing about whether or not the results were real or a false reading due to instrument error, and I took the opportunity to look to where Junior sat with snarling face and spiky hair. Satisfied that he was okay, I reached out and patted the bristles even as I reached for the coffee cup next to my computer and took a drink.
Only I wasn't at my computer; I was at McKellan's. And she wasn't drinking coffee; she was drinking tea… with lemon.
My hand flailed out as soon as the first sharp tang registered on my tongue and Junior hit the floor about a second after the teacup, and my first thought was I hope his container is at least watertight. With bees it took a few seconds before I started feeling the full brunt of the anaphylaxis setting in, but with citrus the effects were almost instantaneous and I could already feel the restriction in my airways.
McKellan looked to the shattered mug on the ground. "Hey, that was my favorite cup!"
But Radek had the wherewithal to know something wasn't right. Given the fact that I was already turning red from the lack of oxygen, I thought it should have been rather obvious. "Rodney?"
"Lemon," I gasped out in explanation before my windpipe completely closed off.
I was staggering back to my workbench, going for the epi pen I knew was there, when I heard Radek calling through the radio. "Medical team to Dr. McKay's lab, immediately!"
Spots were forming in front of my eyes as I pulled the drawer open and I felt the floor meet my knees as I fought to clear my vision so I could find the epinephrine.
"Dr. Z, what wrong?"
John's voice was filled with dread and I wished like hell that he were here, because he would be able to find the epi pen, he would be able to make everything okay.
Radek responded, standing right behind me, and I let myself collapse all the way to the floor because surely to God after all the drilling Sheppard had done with him in case of just such an occurrence, he would know what to do. "Rodney has accidentally drunk tea with lemon."
"Oh, Jesus." I could picture his brisk walk turning into an all out sprint to the lab. "There's epi in his work station. Top drawer on the…"
"Yes, yes, have it now," Radek informed him briskly, Santa hat askew as he knelt beside me. I felt the prick of the needle in my thigh and Radek asking in a shaking voice, "There. Is good, yes? You will be fine now and Colonel will not break me into tiny pieces for allowing you to be broken. Okay?"
"Radek, this is Dr. Beckett. Have you administered the epinephrine yet?"
"Yes, just now. How long before it starts to work?"
I was wondering the same thing. I hadn't had a reaction like this since I was a kid. It had been my first and I had been terrified and not much had changed in the thirty years since. If not for the fact that the waiter at the restaurant had realized what was happening from personal experience and used his own epinephrine on me, the world would have never known the glory and brilliance of Dr. Rodney McKay. After it was all over, I had been torn between relief at being alive and vindication at proving my mother wrong regarding her statement, "Just try a bite of the key lime pie. It won't kill you."
"You should notice some improvement in less than a minute," Carson told him, but I was hoping like hell it would be sooner than that. I was also hoping like hell John was going to walk in the door sooner still.
"There seems to be no change as of yet," Radek informed him tensely.
"Give him another," John ordered and I reached out for him only to realize I was still hearing him through the radio.
"Not yet, Colonel." Carson's voice sounded like he was running now, too. "Let's give it a few seconds more."
The room was going gray around the edges and I fought to pull in a breath, any breath. "I think he is about to pass out," Radek told them in growing panic and I felt my own giving way to a warm, tingling spreading through my body.
In response to John's plea, Carson directed Radek, "Give him the second dose."
"Yes, I am doing so now." If he did inject me with another dose, I never felt it. I wasn't feeling anything but a floating sensation and hearing a buzzing in my ears.
"Dr. Z, is he wearing his radio?" John was so muffled, I wondered absently if we were in bed and he was hiding under the blankets.
"Yes, Colonel, he is." And why the hell was Radek under the covers, too?
"Rodney, you wait for me," he ordered gruffly. "Do you hear me? You better fucking take a breath and wait for me."
I tried again. For John. I tried and was rewarded with the tiniest bit of air into my lungs.
"I… I think it is working!" Radek exclaimed.
But John wasn't letting up. "Again, McKay. Breathe."
I tried again and this time I was able to breathe a little deeper. Carson arrived then, Radek evidently making way for him because the Czech accent at my side was replaced by a Scottish one, reassuring me, giving directions to the medics, but the only voice I was interested in was the one coming through my radio.
"I'm almost there, Rodney. I expect you to be sitting up bitching at Carson when I walk through that door." That wasn't very likely, but when the medic slipped the oxygen mask over my face, I was actually able to suck a little bit of it into by burning lungs.
John skidded into the lab about the time Carson was starting an I.V., practically elbowing one of the medics out of the way to reach me. "What the hell are you doing lying down on the job?" I lifted my hand that had that odd sensation of feeling heavier than lead and lighter than air all at the same time and he grabbed it and pulled it to his chest the same time I pulled in a wheezing breath. Any other time the sound would have had John frowning in worry, instead he smiled encouragingly. "Keep it up, McKay. That's what I want to hear."
It just goes to show that everything really is relative, and in John's book, me breathing was better than me suffocating any day.
"Aye, Colonel, he's doing much better already." Carson stood and waved an arm at the medics with him. "All right, lads, let's get him on the gurney and down to the infirmary."
John helped transfer me, reclaiming my hand as soon as they were done and moving down the hall. When I smiled up at him hazily, already feeling the effects of the drugs, he squeezed my hand. "I swear to God, I can't let you out of my sight for a second. I'm going to have to set up closed circuit cameras in the lab or a goddamn baby monitor at the very least."
That triggered a memory and I mumbled behind the mask. "Junior."
"Hey, don't worry about that stupid egg box. We'll get it later."
With a shake of my head, I wheezed out, "Can't… leave him."
"Rodney…" he started in frustration.
"Can't," I repeated, gripping his hand as tight as I could. If the fact that I was trying to save that fucking instant omelet while on my deathbed didn't convince Dr. Nana that I was committed to caring for my slightly mangled responsibility, nothing would.
With a sigh, John looked back toward the lab. Radek, seeing his distress at the thought of leaving me, offered, "I will go retrieve Colonel Junior. Deliver him safely into hands of proud Papas."
Given Radek's history with Junior, I wasn't exactly confident that it would happen, but a few minutes after we arrived in the infirmary, so did Radek and the box. I gave it a quick once over before handing it over to John. "He's your responsibility now. Don't let me down."
And as I finally gave into the drugs and drifted off to sleep, I couldn't tell if the distraught expression on John's face was over me or Junior.
As Rodney slept, I contemplated the box of eggs, the concept of nearly being a single father, and who precisely I was going to have to fuck up in the lab. Holiday season or not, I wasn't exactly feeling charitable right at that moment. I turned my head towards Radek, "I seem to recall banning citrus from the lab. Sure, I finally broke down and let the Daedalus bring it for the cafeteria where Rodney tends to pay more attention to his food, but I distinctly remember gathering up all the geeks and asking pretty politely: no goddamn lemon in the goddamn labs."
"Was Dr. McKellan," Radek winced. "She is to be forgetting. She is still new. I will remind…." Then he slid into Czech, which I suspected was to get out of the conversation. Dr. Z used to like me, but since Rodney and I had gotten married, I was beginning to think he thought I was as much a pain in the ass as the esteemed Dr. McKay. Rodney was a loud egomaniac who stole everyone's powerbars and I was an overprotective goon with a gun. I hadn't pistol whipped anyone yet…well, I'd considered it with Kavanagh…but who knows, the geeks probably thought. I could lose it at any time.
I sighed, sat in the chair beside Rodney's bed, and placed the egg carton on the floor. On second thought I picked it up and kept it in my lap. "Jesus Christ," I muttered to myself as Dr. Z hurried off, no doubt to barricade the lab door. I reached back out to reclaim Rodney's limp warm hand and felt the weight shift in my lap. I was responsible for that thing for at least a day now and so far I hadn't been exactly helpful on that front. Dropped number two. Managed to get this one shredded. Although forget the catnip mouse, that damn evil cat had done it out of pure spite just to get me into trouble. And now a whole day of trying to keep Junior alive. I looked down at it. "No way you're mine," I said. "Rodney must be cheating on me or you'd have kicked that cat's ass."
"How we doing here, lad? Need anything?" Carson's hand rested on my shoulder.
"Sedatives," I said in resignation.
"Rodney's fine," he commented in confusion. "Out like a light he is."
"For me," I exhaled. "I need them for me."
Normally Rodney would bounce back in a few hours after an allergic reaction. He'd nap it off and be up and annoying in no time. But this wasn't like most times. He slept nearly six hours. One of the nurses picked us up two trays from the cafeteria. One: because I wasn't leaving Rodney…in excellent medical hands or not. And two: I was afraid to go anywhere with that stupid egg carton. I could see why Rodney had such a complex about it now. He didn't want to fail Dr. Nana. Hell, he feared failing her. And I didn't want to fail Rodney…and, yeah, okay, I feared him a little bit too. I did not want to spend a nookie free week. Not that he'd use sex as a weapon. Oh, hell, what was I saying? Damn straight he'd use sex as a weapon and anything else he could think of, devious bastard. Devious, oblivious bastard.
"You couldn't just once pay attention," I said under my breath, squeezing his hand. "You couldn't just once watch what you were drinking instead of some computer screen. Damn it, Rodney."
His brow wrinkled lightly as if he'd heard me, but he slept on, sheet pulled up to his waist, IV in his arm. Most people…99.9 of the people…fine, everyone but me, thought Rodney was a huge whopping hypochondriac. Maybe he had a few tendencies in that direction. Whatever. But when you have life threatening allergies, a mitral valve prolapse, hypoglycemia, and a blood pressure that thought shooting for the stars was a fine motto, it was hard to blame him at freaking out at every little pseudo symptom that might waltz past.
Carson had noted that since we'd married my blood pressure had shot up by ten. Yeah, big surprise there.
He finally yawned, blinked eyes, licked dry lips, and focused on me, frowning. "Okay, whose fault is it this time?"
"God's," I replied ruefully. "Either that or you have enough bad karma to make up for than Darth Vader and Mussolini combined." I swung the over-the-bed table over his lap. The food on the tray was long cold, but Rodney wouldn't care. The man actually ate at a Korean-Swedish buffet once. Tepid, unidentifiable food was a hobby of his. Of course I spent that hour as taste taster to prevent just the situation he was in now and spent the following week in the bathroom cursing him, his family, his cat, and his malicious, cast iron stomach. "Ready for some figgy pudding?"
He sat up, automatically checked on Junior in my lap and grunted in satisfaction. He then frowned harder at the mystery meat, fake potatoes, but the frown shifted to a rather evil sideways smile as he spotted the two sugar cookies in the shape of Christmas trees. I'd given him my cookie on top of his. Hell, the man had had a hard day. "I forgot," he reached for the cookie first, took a huge bite, and said around it. "The mission tomorrow. The tree."
"Oh God." I closed my eyes. Talk about psychologically challenged. The holiday trees were my area. Get chased by one horde of pissed off bald squirrels, have one try to live in your hair, and you'll think twice about cutting down a tree again. Or getting near one. "You've been through a lot with the Nana narcolepsy and mutilation of your kid and all, I think I'll assign this one to Lorne and his team."
"Oh no. I've been waiting for this all year." Strong teeth snapped through the other cookie. "Granted Junior and I will watch from a distance, but I know how you love Christmas and I really know how much you loved mocking me when that purple goat sexually assaulted my leg. No way I'm missing this. Besides I nearly died…I deserve a little entertainment and a holiday outing."
"You did not nearly die," I scowled at him. I'd said it mentally to myself about two hundred times while he slept. It didn't sound anymore convincing out loud. "I don't want to go. The goat was years ago, so let it go already. And…."
He picked up his fork but hesitated, repeating, "And…? And what?"
"And you did not nearly die," I mumbled. "I have to go the bathroom. I'll try not to get Junior wet or vaporized." The toilets on Atlantis did take some getting used to.
By the time Junior and I got back Rodney was already done with his food and ready to go home. He was still tired, sleepy, and a little wobbly on his feet, but Carson checked him out and turned him loose with instructions for resting the remainder of the day. Not a problem for most people, but a near impossibility for Rodney, which is why it so sucked that when we did get home, he promptly climbed in bed. With prominent dark circles under his eyes he reached up, snagged my shirt and pulled me down for a kiss. "You're right," he said with absolute assurance. "I didn't nearly die. Everyone overreacted and I was a complete hypochondriac as always. Promise."
My lips curved. "Okay. Good." I kissed him back and whispered, "Thanks."
Five minutes later he was out like a light and I was trying to find a place for Junior where the cat couldn't reach him, because there was no way, vows or no vows, that I was wearing that thing on my chest. "Definitely not my kid," I muttered at it. "Can't fight. Haven't seen you once hit on any hot and sexy bacon or toast. Plus, you're much better off without me." My old man taught me the best way to raise a kid was to ignore it. I didn't imagine I'd do much better. It's hard to shake off the first lessons you learn in life.
I proved that in less than three hours.
I locked the cat in the bathroom, then I did reports with the carton clamped between my knees while Rodney snored on. I sent online chocolate baskets to his sister and Nana, a gift certificate to some organic food company to Kaleb, from Wal-Mart some kind of doll that looked like a miniature hooker to Madison…signed that 'Love Uncle Mer' and sent her several books from 'Uncle John.' Sure we would see them in a few weeks, but it's not like the SGC has a duty free shop right next to the cafeteria or anything. Besides, I wanted to see the thank you he got from his sister over streetwalker 'Ashlee and accessories' in person. Make me go get the damn tree, would he?
After making sure Rodney's relatives received Christmas presents before April, I wrote a letter to Lieutenant Robinson's mother thanking her for the Snickerdoodles. They hadn't arrived yet, but they would. The man had saved Rodney's life before giving up his own, and his mother didn't blame us. Just didn't. She was proud of her son and sent cookies every conceivable holiday. Some people…they had the most goddamn amazing families. Rodney, Robinson….I looked over as Rodney turned in bed onto his stomach and began drooling on my pillow…me. I smiled. I had the most amazing family too.
It didn't make me any better at watching his pride and joy. We…Jesus…I was just getting a little air on the balcony, Junior in sight at all times—sitting on the edge of the broad stone rail and safely out of reach of the cat I had finally released from her prison. I looked at the jagged teeth and snorted, "You can bitch all you want. You're not getting any sun screen." Four seconds later I was leaning over that same rail to watch the minute splash far in the distance. The seagull responsible squawked, tried to peck my head as it flew over, and then the worse….
Rodney strode out behind me and demanded, "Where's Rodney Junior?"
I folded arms on the rail, buried my head in them, and groaned, "I think you better call Social Services."
There were a lot of things I had failed at in my life. Not that I admitted it out loud that often, but, yes, I, Dr. Meredith Rodney McKay, had been unsuccessful a time or two in the past. Solar systems paid the price for my overzealousness, ZedPMs had suffered more than once due to a miscalculation, Jeannie had gained a new car because of the fact that I occasionally hit a roadblock. Sure, I'd take responsibility for those, I would even take responsibility for the chocolate burns on John's arm from a freak fondue accident, but I would not take responsibility for the demise of two eggs and a carton of dehydrated ones. Because, this, was so totally not my fault.
But when John looked up from the railing, dread and exhaustion and maybe even a touch of fear in his eyes, I clamped my mouth shut on the rant that was on the verge of spewing forth. I'd had a shitty day, a shitty two days to be exact, but if possible, John's had been worse. Sure, I'd almost died, but John had been doing wind sprints to get to me so he could watch me almost die. And from personal experience, I knew that really was worse. So, I bit my tongue and closed my eyes and counted to ten.
One lightyear, two lightyears, three lightyears, four lightyears, five…
The hesitant tone had me flicking my eyes open long enough to silently tell him it would be in his best interest if he shut the fuck up right now. Smart boy that he is, that's exactly what he did.
Six lightyears, seven lightyears, eight lightyears, nine lightyears, ten lightyears. Taking a deep breath, I opened my eyes again and hitched a thumb. "You're coming with me."
He followed closely on my heels as I stalked back into our quarters. "Meri Kurisumasu!" Since mechanical Christmas trees don't respond to glares, I kicked it instead. "Oh, shut the hell up." It teetered over and I kept walking without looking back. John took a wide berth around it and followed me out into the hall.
"I swear to God, Rodney, those seagulls have it out for me."
I raised a finger and glared back at him as we made our way down the corridor. "Not another word. Not another goddamn word until we reach the mess hall, at which time you will do all the talking to Beulah."
"It had to be the hair… technically that makes it Radek's..."
"John," I growled, "If you say one more word about it, I swear I'll tell you about how I saw my grandfather beckoning me from the bright light after I drank that tea."
That was nowhere near the case, but, just as I suspected, it shut him up pretty damn fast, at least until we reached the kitchen and could track down the head lunch lady to plead our case. Unfortunately, Beulah was having none of it. We stood watching the cafeteria staff surrounded by bowls of batter and baking pans as Mrs. Kavanagh explained all extra powdered eggs were being used for the holiday baking… cookies, fruit cakes, cinnamon rolls, gingerbread… you named it, they were baking it.
"But there's some right there," I pointed out as I waved a hand to a container behind her.
"You want it, you got it," she smirked, handing over the empty carton. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a gingerbread house in need of lemon jellies roof tiles. You want a sample?" The evil upturn of one corner of her mouth had me deciding she was probably building the house to lure Athosian children inside to bake for her own Christmas feast.
John stepped in front of me. "NO!" Evidently one trip to the infirmary a day was enough for him. "We'll let you get back to work."
"But the egg carton. I need…"
With a shove, he turned me toward the exit. "Don't worry about it, McKay. We'll think of something."
Ends up, he already had thought of something. Steering me toward the back prep table, John took the empty carton I still carried in my hand and, after a quick survey of the room to make sure no one was looking, used a measuring cup to scoop flour from one of the large bowls into the container. When he was satisfied it met the weight requirements he hefted it in his hand. "There, that feels about right. All we need now are some Sharpie markers and some broom bristles and Junior is good as new. Dr. Nana will never know the difference."
"You are one of the most deceitful human beings I have ever met." He shifted his shoulders uncomfortably until I leaned close with a wicked grin. "And I find that to be insanely hot."
With a devious smile of his own he moved in until we were chest to chest. "Yeah?"
I let my eyes drift over him appreciatively. "So hot we need to leave before you scorch the cookies in here."
His lip twitched minutely then he bent forward and spoke at my ear. "How about we go back to our place and I scorch your sugar cookies instead?"
Brushing my lips against his jaw, I offered, "And afterward I could maybe snicker your doodle."
With a nip at my earlobe, John groaned, "That sounds… not as enticing as it should have."
"Yeah," I conceded when he straightened with a grimace, "you're right." I grabbed Junior, a couple of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies cooling on a rack on the table and stuffed one in my mouth. "Enough of the baked good innuendoes; let's go home and have sex."
"Sounds like a plan to me," he agreed, evidently happy that I'd apparently let him off the hook for the last Junior debacle.
"We'll see if maybe you can keep from drowning the new and improved, if protein deficient, version of Junior," I grumbled around my snack.
"Hell, the fall was what probably killed him."
His grin just had me raising my eyebrows at this good mood. "Do you really think quoting Butch and Sundance to me is going to get you off the hook?"
"Nope," he informed me cheerfully as he patted the flour-filled egg carton. "But I think my cunning is going to get me laid."
"And that's all that matters to you?"
"That's all the matters to me."
And a few hours later, with Junior back in his makeshift baby bed, only this time with the drawer closed safely back in the dresser, I had to agreed that John made a very compelling point about the importance of a really spectacular lay.
The next morning we were on Christmas tree duty. Mikimoto's family was safely back on Old Atlantea, so I wasn't really too worried about being attacked by a horde of angry squirrels like we had been in times past. But I also refused to go the new Mainland again. You see one venomous snake the size of your thigh hanging from a tree, you've seen all you need to see of the Mainland in my opinion. Ronon had suggested a planet he remembered from his time of being a Runner. The world had been uninhabited, long abandoned for probably centuries before, and the trees had been similar to what he was seeing on the Christmas decorations around the city. On top of that, he didn't remember any rabid wildlife running around. So, it sounded like a win-win all around.
Not that Sheppard was looking forward to it, in fact just the opposite. But he had had so many different things ruin his Christmases over the years starting with his childhood that I refused to let one small rodent infestation ruin a good tree hunt for him. So, it was with a bit of reluctance that John packed the picnic lunch and chain saw into the Jumper and I packed Junior into his goddamn carrier.
Dr. Nana caught us before we left, Freud snarling at me from under her arm as she poked her head into the Jumper. "Here you boys are. Going offworld, are you?"
"Yes, yes," I smiled, fighting the fidgeting her appearance brought out in me and hoping like hell she wouldn't notice the difference in the egg carton. Then realizing what she must be thinking I clarified quickly, "Nothing dangerous! I'd never do anything to endanger Rodney Junior." I laughed nervously and John gave me a look that said I was pushing it, so I barreled forward hoping to get rid of her. "Just a Christmas tree hunt." I patted the carrier and rocked back on my heels. "A nice family outing."
John rolled his eyes. Although whether it was because of my claim of safety or including Junior as family, I couldn't be sure.
Dr. Nana, however, seemed more interested in the Jumper. She looked curiously around the interior of the ship. "So this is a Puddle Jumper. I've read about them but never actually been in one."
"They're really quite a fascinating piece of machinery," I told her.
"And they're only able to be flown by those with the ATA gene?"
"Yes, that's right. Colonel Sheppard here was the first one to fly the Jumpers so he's our foremost expert." John gave here a quick halfhearted smile before moving to the pilot's seat. "And, of course, I was the first to receive the gene via transfer, so I also have a great deal of piloting experience."
Dr. Nana raised an eyebrow in disbelief when Sheppard coughed as he ran through the system checks. "It's true," I defended.
"Whatever you say, Chuck Yeager," he patronized before asking, "Are we going or not?"
Unfortunately, the psychiatrist didn't pick up on the clue to leave or just chose to ignore it. I was going with the latter.
"So, how are you doing with your project, Meredith? No more mishaps since we moved to a sturdier model?"
She reached her free hand for the carton and I took a step back in a panic. Oh, God, she was going to be able to tell. She was going to be able to tell what we'd done and I was so screwed. Which went a long way in explaining what I did next.
"Say, why don't you come with us?"
"What?" she and John both asked simultaneously.
"Uh… sure! I mean, it'll be great. You can see how the Jumper works; it's a perfectly harmless trip to a deserted planet. We'll be back in a few hours."
"Rodney, I don't think that would be such a good idea," John argued. "Especially with her dog. No telling what sort of wildlife we might run into."
My mouth was moving before my brain had a chance to catch up. "Oh, I'm sure she can find someone to watch Freud for a few hours. Can't you, Doctor?"
Grey brows crinkled for a second in contemplation before she nodded her head. "I don't think that would be a problem. I'll be right back."
As soon as she was out the back of the ship, John demanded in a harsh whisper, "What the hell do you think you're doing? Did the lack of oxygen from your reaction yesterday cause brain damage we weren't aware of?"
"I don't know!" I whispered back frantically throwing my arms into the air. "I panicked! She was going to ask to see the carton. It was the only thing I could think to do."
"And now she's going to be with you and the carton for hours," he snapped back. "How is that any better?"
"I told you I panicked," I all but whimpered. "I cannot be held responsible for what I say or do around that that woman."
With a frustrated sigh, John ran his hands through his hair. "Great. Well, if nothing else she can help me carry your unconscious body back to the ship when you black out again."
We both straightened quickly when small hands clapped and rubbed together briskly. "Okay, let's see what this baby can do." I started to sit in my normal copilot seat and she instantly called out, "Shotgun!" With a cheerful pat to my back, she squeezed her plump frame around me. "I'm sure you won't mind, Meredith. Now will you?"
"No, of course not," I grumbled as I sat in the seat behind John, wondering how she had found a dog-sitter so quickly. That question was answered when the Jumper lowered in front of the gate and I could see Chuck watching us with a dazed expression on his face as he held the snarling poodle out at arms length.
Well, it was good to see I wasn't the only one who couldn't say no to her. Maybe it was a Canadian thing.
But running into trouble in the least likely places? That was evidently a Sheppard and McKay thing. Unfortunately, we'd just unwittingly dragged Dr. Nana into it, as well.
It was the middle of summer on the planet we'd chosen to find the base's Holiday Tree… that was a hell of a lot easier to say than Kwanznukahsolstismas Tree and the simpler pronunciation combined with the pleasant day had the tree hunt starting out on a positive note.
For the most part.
"Oh, what a fascinating coloring," Dr. Nana observed of a butterfly-type insect sitting on the bright pink petals of a vining flower.
Her smile faded instantly when John sprayed the bug directly before turning the insect repellent on me and dousing me just as thoroughly. "Sorry, Rodney has allergies," my mate pointed out less apologetically than his words as I coughed and sputtered in the chemical fog and the butterfly dipped and swooped drunkenly away.
When he sprayed again for good measure, I swatted his hand away. "Thank you, Colonel. I think you've successfully preempted any anaphylactic death by poisoning me instead."
"Whatever it takes, McKay," he drawled unfazed as he put the can back in his vest before surveying the forest before us. "Check the lifesigns detector."
"Ronon said the planet was abandoned," I reminded but fished the device out of my own vest.
"And if you can trust his three year old memory of a planet he was on for a few days without confirmation, you'll believe Santa is bringing you an atom splitter for Christmas."
"Well, it was on my list."
As I thought the scanner on, our companion on this outing watched us studiously. "You two have a very interesting dynamic."
"Did you hear that, Rodney? Dr. Leander thinks we're a Dynamic Duo. She must have seen your tights."
But I wasn't paying attention; instead I was counting the blips. "Oh, that's not good."
"Goddammit, what now?" John demanded, gun at the ready but he lowered it pretty quickly when five armed men stepped out of the trees. They carried what looked like crossbows. Nowhere near the fire power we had, but when they swung their weapons off of the two of use with our guns and onto the unarmed old lady standing beside us, John and I both knew we'd never be able to get off a shot before at least one barb embedded itself in a lavender uniform.
Best I could tell, they were smugglers who were using the deserted buildings of the planet as a sort of way station. The building they took us to, the one with at least most of the roof still intact, sure didn't look like it was being used as anything more than temporary quarters for the men.
"Who sent you?" the guy in charge demanded as he stood and studied John's P-90 curiously. Our side arms and John's knife also sat on the table where we sat, along with the remnants of the men's last meal, and Junior, who sat staring at me with an accusatory expression.
"Santa Claus," John smirked.
After a quick glance to his men and shakes of their head, the leader frowned. "We do not know of any Santa Claus."
"Really?" Crossing his arms casually across his chest, Sheppard slumped down in his chair. "Well, he's been making a list and we're assigned to checking it twice. He likes to find out who's been naughty or nice."
They may not have been familiar with the cultural reference, but they could tell a smartass when they saw one. And the swift punch to John's jaw from the muscle looming next to him said what they thought of his comments.
"Hey!" I exclaimed when John's head snapped around so fast a droplet of his blood landed on my own face. "What the fuck was that for?"
"For lying to me," the leader told me simply.
John gave a quick shake of his head to clear it from the blow and I gave a push to his shoulder to help him straighten from where he had ended up slumped against me.
"Okay, fine," I snapped. "Ral Dala."
Now that was a name they did recognize. I figured anyone involved in any sort of semi-organized crime in Pegasus knew that name. Unfortunately, we were more intimately familiar with it than most seeing as he had kidnapped me and Radek and held us for ransom. And since Atlantis wasn't willing to give them the weapons they were demanding, John had given them a deadly taste of them up close and personal in order to get me back.
"McKay…" he mumbled in warning but it had gained their attention like I had hoped.
"Ral Dala has not been heard from in over a year," we were told warily.
"Yes, I know," I told the man with a hitch of my thumb toward John, "and he's the reason why."
"Well, in all fairness, you built the bomb," he conceded. "And Radek helped, too."
"You expect me to believe that you killed Ral Dala?"
"Killed, maimed, at the very least trapped him on the world where he maintained his base of operations. Either way, the results were the same. He's out of commission. And if we can do that with a man like Ral Dala, do you honestly think you guys stand a chance?"
Another punch had John practically landing in my lap as the leader leaned across the table. "Yeah, I think we do."
"Rodney, stop trying to help," John told me as he struggled to sit once more.
"Did your father not hug you as a child?" Dr. Nana asked academically. When the man just looked at her dumfounded by the question, she continued. "I suppose it could be a problem in the mother-son relationship, but that tends to result in lack of trust and over-possessiveness issues like we see with Colonel Sheppard, here."
"Now wait just a minute…"
But she completely ignored John's protest and went on with her analysis. "But a lack of intimacy with the father figure often manifests with an initial response of violence and aggression to any problem. Again, as is often seen with the Colonel and, to a slightly different although no less degree, with Dr. McKay."
"What the hell?" I blurted but was again disregarded.
"So I'm thinking you needed an occasional hug from you father when you were growing up. Although I'm afraid that really doesn't do us much good at this point, does it? A little like shutting the barn door after the horse has already escaped." She gave a small, disappointed laugh and shook her grey head in regret that she'd gotten to them too late. "Unless, of course, you're fortunate enough to find someone who is as emotionally damaged as yourself and you are able to get past the distrust and fear of abandonment that results in you building walls to keep people out and instead you are able to let someone in to give you the intimacy that you simultaneously crave and reject. Once again, much like your captives here. Of course then there's the situation of a girl becoming promiscuous in seeking an absent daddy figure, so can a man become the same way in seeking the love of a woman—a mother figure—he's always lacked."
I honestly wasn't sure if the first part was meant as a compliment or an insult, but, if possible, the men holding us looked even more baffled than I did as they stood staring at the psychiatrist who just kept talking. But I definitely knew who the last part was aimed at. I elbowed John, "Ha! Not that that lets you off the hook by any means."
Meanwhile Dr. Leander was still rambling on.
"Unless you've been able to find a sort of intimacy with your little band of marauders. I haven't worked much with gang members but from what I've read, there is a fascinating connection between them that mimics the familial bonds we often see between siblings so that the gang, in a sense, acts as a surrogate for the lack of love they so desperately want but aren't receiving from home. Tragic really," she sighed. "And yet…"
As Dr. Nana droned on, John mumbled, "Get ready," as he finally straightened following his last hit.
I was able to bite my tongue and not demand exactly what I was supposed to be getting ready for, but I saw the way his eyes flicked toward his handgun that sat on the edge of the table. Our captors had evidently forgotten all about the weapons, listening to the psychobabble in something between awe and bafflement. Seeing his chance, John lunged for his gun with one hand and Junior with the other. For a split second, as I practically tackled Leander out of her chair, I was touched beyond words that John would think to save Junior for me. Then I was left speechless as he tossed the carton into the air and fired his M9 effectively ripping the container apart and dispersing a cloud of white to fill the small room.
"GO!" he ordered. "Get her back to the Jumper!"
The disoriented scrambling I heard behind me suggested the cloud had been enough to cover our escape and I dragged the doctor to her feet and got her moving even as I called back, "Sheppard?"
"Right behind you," he assured. But that really wasn't what I wanted to ascertain. Not that that fact wasn't important seeing as I wanted to warn him about the really important fact.
"You do know flour is explosive, don't you?" We were out in the hall, and I wiped at the powder coating my face even as I kept pushing Dr. Nana toward the exit. "John?"
I looked behind me and saw his back as he pointed his gun into the room to cover our escape. "Sheppard, don't fire your gun!" I ordered. All it would take was a spark to set that room off like a powder keg, a lightening fast chain reaction of tiny dust particles each going up in flames and taking anyone else in the vicinity with them.
Dr. Leander opened the front door and darted out into the sunlight and gulped air after her short sprint out of the building, but I hesitated long enough to hear the short stutter of P90 fire.
"Don't!" I yelled helplessly to whichever of the men had managed to figure out how to make the gun fire, but it was too late.
Besides, no one would have been able to hear me over the sound of the room exploding in a brilliant flash.
I'd been blown up once or twice in my connection with the military. Four or five times in my connection with Rodney, sad to say. It doesn't matter how many there are or whether it's your first or your last, you always have the same incredibly intelligent first thought:
The second thought tended to be longer, but not that more elaborate.
What the fuck?
I couldn't hear anything but a loud buzzing in my ears. I could tell I was lying on my back, the hard packed dirt floor of the cabin. As for what I could see…nothing. I wanted to believe it was the residual powder in the air, but that would be white…and there would be no residual powder. Flour bombs didn't work that way. I tried to move but couldn't do more than twitch. Twitching and trying to escape. It was better than thinking of the fact I couldn't see…and if I couldn't see that meant I was….
Not going there. That's what it meant. I was not going there in my mind. Not here, not now.
"Rodney?" I don't know why I said his name. I couldn't have heard him if he'd answered. I had hope though. I'd been in the doorway of the room covering our sixes. He'd been outside, safe. Blown outward, bruised but okay. That's the way it had to be. Maybe Dr Nana broke his fall with all that lavender pudge. Suddenly, I felt hands on me. I started to fight then went limp as my brain kicked in. Funny how you could recognize the touch of one hand from hundreds of others. It was Rodney. I knew that as sure as I knew anything.
I felt the hands, his hands, under my armpits and felt the sensation of being dragged. He could have been saying my name—I knew he was saying my name, but I couldn't hear anything but the buzzing and see nothing but blackness. Then there were more hands, soft and plump. Dr. Leander was cowboying up. Good for her. Too bad Junior had to die right before her eyes, but at least she hadn't seen him burnt to a crisp.
Who was Junior again?
The hands pulled me up and dragged me along. I tried to get my feet moving, but was only mildly successful. Soon enough I felt the Jumper's cushions under me and cool wet gauze placed over my face, layer after layer. And finally through the buzzing I could hear the faint sounds of Rodney yelling at me. It was faint, so how did I know he was yelling? Rodney always yells during a crisis. And this qualified. My head was clearing along with my hearing, but my eyes….
"John? John, do you hear me? You answer me right this second, you understand?" The voice cracked, only a fraction, but it did and I heard it.
I raised a hand, not that I could see it. "'Kay. Live. Kicking."
There was a whoosh of breath and he said with relief, "I've covered your face with wet gauze. It looks like you might have a mild burn there. Dr. Leander will keep it damp. I'll have us through the gate in twenty seconds tops, all right?" His hand rested on my chest for a second. "But you can hear again and you're not mumbling about being a serial Junior killer, so you're okay, right?"
"Right," I said slowly, barely able to hear my own words. "Little aloe and I'll be good to murder your next foster kid."
"Ah well, he died for a noble cause," Dr Leander surprised me by saying that, soft hand squeezing my wrist, knowing I was lying to Rodney. Trouble was: Rodney knew it, too. Just like he always knew I was lying, even when it was for his own good. "Now go on, Meredith. The sooner we get the Colonel home, the sooner he gets the medical attention he needs."
The hand flattened further on my chest, feeling my heart beat. "You'll be fine, John. Fine. Because I say so and God help me, I can't find another baby sitter. So goddamnit, you're fine. Now promise me."
I quirked my burning lips, not that they could've seen it under the gauze. "Promise."
There was a kiss to the top of my head…which smelled a little singed…and he was gone. His twenty second guesstimate was right and probably scared the pants off Chuck and the fur off Freud, we came in so fast. I knew the sounds of those engines and if they were loud enough to hear through the buzzing then we were doing 110 mph in a school zone. I hoped Rodney didn't take out his countryman or the ankle-biter. That would just make it the perfect holiday.
Merry fucking Christmas.
Carson was soothing and upbeat as always…even when he flashed a light in my eyes and I saw nothing. Maybe a dim shadow, a sensation of light more than the actual brightness. "And now this eye, lad." I'd already been through the flushing for a good twenty minutes, as if it were a few million specks of Junior that were blocking my vision. During that less than pleasant experience I could pretend it was the pain that had me gripping Rodney's hand until he actually hissed at the pressure, but now I didn't have that excuse.
"Still nothing," I said passively, never mind I was losing it—utterly, completely, fucking losing it—on the inside. You have to have 20/20 to fly in the Air Force. They sure as hell weren't going to let my Helen Keller self in a jumper like this.
The hand on mine squeezed hard. "But it's only temporary, right, Carson? A little flash burn and his eyes will heal up in days, maybe even hours. Right? Right? Are you listening to me? Am I right or not, because I know I am!"
"Perhaps if I were allowed to finish my examination I could be a little more informative," Carson said briskly.
"Rodney…," Dr Nana and I managed to say at the same time. Under different circumstances, I would've grinned at that. Not now.
"No. I don't want to wait and I don't give a good goddamn about being calm. Call the SGC and have them spend a specialist now. What? Did someone miss that? Now!"
He ended up getting his way…no surprise there. Carson finished his exam and called for the specialist. There were enough hmmms from him that I didn't think Rodney had completely overreacted in this situation. Meanwhile Rodney applied burn cream to my face gently, snapping at the nurse and from the sounds of it, wrestling her for the tube. My hearing had come back. That was something. He brought me water to drink, arranged my blankets, commanded an orderly to fetch me food although I wasn't the slightest bit hungry. Going blind will do that to you. Then he took my hand back and said with forced cheer, "How about we write Junior's eulogy now. I suppose he'll get a medal of honor or something." Then the cheer disappeared. "And no more egg cartons, no more anything, Dr. Leander, are we clear on that? I have actual real things to worry about—not some pseudo scientific experiment most people undergo in Home Ec in junior high. So go write whatever you want on your report, I don't give a goddamn."
So Leander was still hanging around. I heard a slightly surprised hmmm from the foot of my bed then retreating footsteps. She didn't come back either. Teyla came of course, along with Ronon…big, tough Ronon who used the excuse of returning my copy of War and Peace to touch my hand and wrap it around the book.
"Done already?" I asked as Rodney snatched it away lest I give myself a papercut. "What'd you think of it?"
"Well," he drawled, "the bourgeois elitism of the upper class was a tad dry, but the underlying tones of sacrifice and redemption were fairly interesting."
I turned my head with bandaged eyes in Rodney's direction. "Am I dead? I mean, really? Is this some cosmic joke? You're blind…no, kidding. Kidding. You're just dead is all."
Ronon scowled. You wouldn't think you could hear a scowl, but on Ronon you can. "You don't agree with me?"
"Big guy, I gave up after chapter three and went back to X-Men comic books."
He and Teyla stayed a few hours until Rodney basically kicked them out when the specialist showed up. And then more examinations, discussions of options and the lack there of. I kind of started tuning out at that point. I'm sure Dr. Nana would have had a term for it… avoidance, denial, escapism, scared shitless. Is that a clinical term? It damn well should be.
"You're the goddamn specialist," Rodney blurted at one point, tearing me away from my ruminations on psychological jargon. "Show us how special you are and fix this!"
My palm was pretty much plastered to Rodney's with sweat at that point, but I wasn't about to let go. In fact I squeezed a little harder.
"We need to collect some undamaged stem cells from under Colonel Sheppard's eyelid," the ophthalmologist told us. "There has been a good deal of success in returning some vision over time if we can culture some healthy cells."
I fixated on the some part of the equation and Rodney went straight for the duration. "How much time?"
"Months, maybe even years." From the tone I could tell the doctor was cutting Rodney off before he could say more. "The technique is nowhere near perfected. We have to culture the cells, apply them in small batches. It takes time, Dr. McKay."
"The medical replicator," Rodney suggested to Carson with a distinctive snap snap of his fingers. "The one you used to create the antibodies from John's blood when I was infected with the Wraith flu. Could you use that?"
"Aye, I think we might. It would allow us to separate the healthiest cells from the damaged ones, give us a consistent, more uniform crop of cells to work with and it's much faster than cultivating them on their own."
"How fast?" the eye doctor asked curiously.
"We could have a healthy batch in a couple of hours," Carson informed him. "And be in surgery soon after that."
"Good, the sooner we apply them, the better his chances for regaining his sight."
"How good?" I did my best to cover my anxiousness.
"I'd say 50/50."
A 50/50 chance. Has a doctor ever once said to you 100 percent chance you're perfectly healthy. Hell, no.
It was…shit…no more blue sky. No more flying over the waves, the green of the forest, the brilliant white burst of snow on a mountain top. No more crooked smile, blue eyes, waving arms, and a thousand looks that held my world together. No more seeing that? How could that be? How could that fucking be?
When they had collected the sample and disappeared to start the cultivating, I rolled on my side and clutched an extra pillow to my stomach. "Are the lights off?" I wanted them off. If I couldn't see anything, I didn't want anyone seeing me, because I had no idea what my face was showing right now, but it probably wasn't pretty.
"They are now." A hand pulled the pillow away and a heavy weight hit the mattress beside me. Infirmary beds aren't made for two, but we'd made do in the past and we'd make do now. Rodney wrapped his arms around me and I tucked my face against his warm neck. "So…," he said casually, "what do you think our chances were of surviving the first Wraith attack with the tinkertoy nuclear bombs? 10? How about you rescuing me and Ronon off the Hive ship? 5? How about you and me ever having gotten together in the first place? 0?" He kissed my jaw. "We should move to Vegas. We would clean their asses out." There was one more warm lingering kiss. "Now go to sleep."
"Bossy," I mumbled. "Hell, you even bossed Dr. Nana right out of here without passing out. You didn't even get woozy."
"Damn straight, I did," he said smugly.
"You didn't wet yourself, did you?" I yawned, the pain meds for the burns drifting me along—a soap bubble along a winding stream.
"That's need to know. When you're seeing again and washing my boxers, then you'll know." Fingers carded through my hair. "Now sleep, okay? For me?"
And I did. Not from the pain meds or the desire to escape reality, although a little escape right now wasn't something I'd turn down. I did it for Rodney, because he needed the escape too. Right before I slipped away, I mumbled, "I want to go home. 'morrow."
"We'll see what the specialist says after your surgery tonight." A hand stroked my back.
"Tomorrow," I repeated stubbornly, the word slurring but immovable. "I've killed eggs and cartons. There's no limit to what I might do if I don't get my way. Tomorrow." There was silent hesitation before I said softly, "Please?" Home, where at least I could escape imagining pitying eyes on me. Where I could get mustard on my face and Rodney could wipe it off without some damn nurse tearing up. Rodney could see me like this, but no one else. Not now. Not yet.
God, please, not ever.
"Tomorrow," he promised with one last kiss.
And I slept with the faint hope tomorrow would never come.
Two days after John's surgery, he still hadn't left our room, and I wasn't going to push him. Carson had reluctantly released us after the specialist had told him it was going to be five days before he was going to remove the bandages anyway. Best to leave them undisturbed so the stem cells could work… and God they had to work else I was afraid I was going to lose a big chunk of John along with him losing his sight. He was made to fly and while I knew I was the most important thing in his life, flying came in a very close second. And if that was taken away from him all because I had insisted we go on a Christmas tree hunt, I wasn't sure I'd be able to forgive myself. Which went a long way in explaining why I was waiting on him hand and foot.
I'd cleaned our apartment meticulously the first time he tripped over a pair of my boxers. The cat had moved in with Teyla temporarily so she wouldn't accidentally tangle herself between John's legs. And the metallic Christmas tree had joined Rodney Junior number three at the bottom of the ocean when John walked face first into it and ended up with a bloody nose. I hadn't been to the lab in two days, had only left our place to fetch our meals, and spent the rest of my time trying to remain as positive as I could and reassure him that this was just temporary when he was awake and remind him where he was when he woke disoriented in the night. This time, it was my job to be the optimist, and, to be perfectly honest, it was like speaking a foreign language. But I tried and was met with a steadily retreating Sheppard. He was sleeping more during the day than he was awake, eating less each meal, and I was lucky to get more than a one-word response out of him. And with each monotone reply to my questions, I became a little more concerned that I might never get him back again if the procedure didn't work.
So, when Dr. Leander waved from her table in the cafeteria as I was carrying our lunch tray out the door, I didn't look the other way as I had all the times before. Instead, I walked over and nodded a greeting.
"Rodney, I haven't seen you or Colonel Sheppard around much the past few days," she observed as she fed Freud a bite of her sandwich.
I had noticed she'd started calling me Rodney instead of Meredith and I wasn't sure if she was dropping a ploy she had been using before and trying a new one instead. With a shrug, I offered lamely, "John hasn't felt up to coming out lately. The pain medication makes him drowsy and all."
"Well, that's understandable, given the circumstances. And I'm sure you've been taking good care of him."
"I've been trying." I was also trying to decide if she was still evaluating me, just substituting John for the egg. If that was the case, then I was home free because I hadn't paid half as much attention to the egg carton as I was John.
"Bringing him meals, making sure he's comfortable, allowing him to hide from the world."
I blinked at the last statement. "He's not hiding; he's recuperating," I defended, knowing it was a lie as much as she did.
"Rodney, you're a very bright man and I'm not going to insult your intelligence by beating around the bush here even though you didn't give me the same credit when you filled an empty powdered egg carton with flour and thought I wouldn't notice." She dabbed lightly at her mouth as I stood and stammered trying to find an explanation, then she ignored my reaction as she pushed her tray back and folder her hands on the table. "Now then, some psychiatrists would say that you and Colonel Sheppard have elevated codependency to an art form. I, however, believe that a little codependency can be a good thing, especially for people who have spent their whole lives trying to prove they don't need to depend on anyone but themselves. What keeps it healthy is that the two of you also have a liberal amount of antagonism for one another mixed in that helps to balance it out."
"We're not antagonistic," I argued, "competitive maybe…"
Ignoring me once again, she continued. "But what you're doing now is using his injury as an excuse to wallow in your own fears and guilt and it's turned you into a classic enabler."
Setting my own tray down on the table, I leaned forward and snapped, "Just in case you've been too busy knitting your curly haired rat there a new sweater, let me bring you up to speed. John may have lost his sight forever. I think he deserves a few days to process that."
"How many?" she asked simply, hazy blue eyes regarding me calmly behind her glasses.
"How many days does he need? A week? A month? A year? The rest of his empty, hollow life?"
"His life isn't empty and hollow," I insisted as I straightened.
"He's a blind pilot." She sighed with a shake of her head. "Without his sight what else doe he have?"
I started ticking off items on my fingers. "He has Atlantis, he has his friends, he's a goddamn math genius when he lets himself be, he has the gene, and most important, he has me."
"The same you who is allowing him to be nothing more than a blind pilot?" My condescending smirk vanished at the observation and she reached out and patted my hand. "I think it's time to back off on the enabling and show a little tough love instead. If anyone is more suited to doing that than you, Rodney, I don't know who it is."
She was right, I knew she was right, had known she was right ever since John had curled on his side and asked me to turn off the lights in the infirmary. John took on Wraith and drug lords single handedly, he rode suicide bombs and disintegrating moons on reentry, he didn't just roll over and give up. But that was exactly what he was doing, and, like Dr. Nana said, I was the only one who could stop it. So I made a quick side trip before heading home.
"Lunchtime," I called cheerfully as I entered our apartment.
"Not hungry." He didn't move from where he lay on the bed, hands crossed over his chest. All he needed was a goddamn lily to hold and somber organ music playing in the background to complete the picture.
"Don't care," I responded, sitting and patting his leg briskly. "You're going to need to eat if you stand a chance in hell of holding your own against Teyla and Ronon in the gym."
He sat up then with a scowl. "I'm not going to the gym, McKay."
"Yes, you are," I informed him simply around a mouthful of my own sandwich. "In about fifteen minutes, so eat up." I took his hand and wrapped it around the turkey sandwich.
"In case you haven't noticed, I'm at a bit of a disadvantage right now."
"Please," I snorted, "you're always at a disadvantage with those two and that's never stopped you from getting your ass kicked on a regular basis."
"I don't get my ass kicked that regularly," he grumbled but took a bite of his lunch.
"Whatever you say, Grasshopper." I patted his leg again before opening a bottle of water and pressing it into his free hand. "Besides, you've sparred with them blindfolded before, this isn't any different."
"Yes it is; before I could at least find my way to the gym."
"John, do you really think that either Teyla or Ronon would let you roam aimlessly through the halls with one arm groping in front of you trying to feel your way there?"
"No," he mumbled morosely before sighing heavily. "Rodney, I can't. I just… I can't. It's too soon. Okay?"
"You're right, it is too soon. It's too soon for you to be throwing in the towel, which is why you're going to the gym."
"Will you be there?"
The hesitant question had me pausing with the sandwich in midair. I had actually planned to go, but by his hopeful tone I could tell that he knew as well as I did that I'd call a halt to it the first whack he took, no matter that I knew both of our Pegasus native teammates would be pulling their punches. So I crammed another bite of my sandwich in my mouth.
"No. I need to go to the lab and make sure Radek hasn't declared a state of scientific law while I've been gone and established himself as supreme leader during an emergency rule."
John frowned harder. "Good, you go to the lab and I'll stay here. It'll be nice to finally have a little peace and quiet."
"You're going to the gym, Sheppard. End of story."
He dropped his sandwich and lay back down. "The hell I am," he declared, rolling to turn his back to me and he was still in that position when Teyla and Ronon rang at the door.
"Oh, good, you're here." Teyla gave me a worried look when John didn't move. I shook my head minutely before calling, "Time to go, Sheppard. I'll meet you back here in a few hours." When he still didn't move, the two of them looked at me questioningly and I rolled my hand and jerked my head to indicate they should say something.
"John, a workout in the gym will do you much good," Teyla tried brightly.
"No thank you, I'll pass," he said to the wall.
Ronon shifted impatiently. "Sheppard, come on. I don't have all day. Either get out of bed or I'll throw you over my shoulder and carry you to the gym."
"You wouldn't dare," John snorted.
"I plan to hit you multiple times with a practice sword once we get there. So, yeah, I'd dare." When John only snorted again, the Satedan rolled his eyes. "Okay, that's enough. Let's go." One large hand latched onto John's ankle and started pulling him toward the end of the bed.
"Hey! Cut it out!" Ronon ignored the protest and just kept hauling him off the bed. Grabbing a pillow, which was just about the only thing available to him, John swung it and nailed a mass of dreds. "I said knock it the fuck off!"
Undeterred, Ronon kept dragging until he could pull Sheppard onto his feet by the front of his shirt, the whole time being pummeled mercilessly by the pillow. Once he had him standing, Ronon yanked the pillow away and tossed it aside. "You son of a bitch! I ought to…"
"What? Punch me?" Ronon asked with a sly smile.
Squaring his shoulders even as he breathed heavily, John told him, "That's right, that's exactly what I should do."
"Good, then let's get to the gym so you can try." Ronon turned him toward the door and gave him a firm yet gentle shove to get him moving.
Fearing he'd lose his footing, I stepped forward to steady him, but Teyla had already beat me to it. She simply stepped in gracefully and took John's hand and placed it on her forearm. "It appears as though we have a rather exhilarating workout to look forward to." With a final smile in my direction, they started for the door.
Ronon moved to stand by his opposite side, not touching him, but on the look out in case John started to go down. "That felt good, didn't it?"
"Actually," John admitted as they passed out into the hallway, "it really did." I watched them go, deciding, maybe, this wasn't such a bad idea after all. "Rodney?"
I jogged out into the corridor, worried that John had already changed his mind, and equally concerned that he hadn't. "Yeah? What's wrong? Do you need something? Maybe you should take a pain pill with you, you know, just in case they get in a lucky hit."
I glared menacingly at our two teammates and Teyla just rolled her eyes. "He will be quite safe, Rodney."
"Teyla's right; I'll be fine. I just thought we could drop you off at the lab on the way."
"Oh… sure. Let me grab my stuff." When we reached the lab, I watched him go reluctantly, tempted to go along with them just in case he needed me.
Radek, seeing me hesitate in the doorway, stood and raised his hands to the heavens in mock wonder. "Oh, look! It is return of prodigal scientist. Slaughter the fatted powerbar and prepare a feast in honor of his homecoming."
Glowering at him and the other scientists, I gave a hard look around the lab. "So I see everything is still in one piece and the staff still have all their major appendages."
"Seeing as you were not here, it was not that difficult an accomplishment to achieve."
"Yes, I'm sure the annual speed mine sweeper tournament went off without a hitch." I set up my laptop that I'd brought from home. "But now that I'm back, the real work can begin again. Close your mahjongg screens, people. We have a galaxy with secrets to be unraveled."
But my computer hadn't even finished starting up before Carson entered the lab at a brisk pace. "Rodney, are you aware that Colonel Sheppard is sparring in the gym?"
"That was the plan," I told him absently as I looked over Miko's shoulder at the latest long range scan results.
"But his eyesight, the procedure, if he takes a blow to the face…"
"He's with Teyla and Ronon, Carson. Do you think they'd let anything like that happen?"
"No, but still, I don't think it's wise to be doing something like this until the bandages come off in a few days."
Straightening and returning to my own computer, I dismissed his concerns and my own, "He'll be fine."
"Rodney, for someone who seems to think that medicine is little more than glorified parlor tricks, you certainly fancy yourself an expert in the practice."
"Are you going to ban him from the gym?" I demanded impatiently. "Because I don't think that's such a good idea."
"It's only three more days. Surely he can wait three more days before returning to his normal workout regimen."
"And what if it doesn't work?" I snapped. "What if it doesn't work and he's left…" Sitting wearily on my stool, I scrubbed at my face.
Carson's hand landed on my shoulder and squeezed. "You'll get through this, lad. The both of you."
"Do you know what I got him for Christmas? Do you have any idea?"
"Rodney," Carson started in confusion, "what does that have to do…?"
"The new Fighter Pilot game for his Xbox and the paint swatches for the house in Hawaii. He's been on me for months to pick a color so he can paint it. So, I finally did, and ordered it all and it's going to be sitting and waiting for us when we go there next week. If it was possible for me to make things worse, I have. I've simultaneously ruined Christmas and reminded him of his condition all at the same time. Because if he can't see, he can't play video games, he can't paint our house, he can't…" He can't fly or maintain his command or look at me in that way that lets me know everything is going to be okay. Pulling in a deep breath, I kept those thoughts to myself and instead told him, "And it's not like I can run out to the local mall and buy him replacement gifts at the last minute. But I can trust his welfare to the two people who'll look out for it almost as well as I do and I can let him go to the gym and spar with his teammates and feel at least a little bit normal for a few hours."
Carson sighed heavily. "I want you to bring him by the infirmary as soon as he's done, sooner if he takes a hit anywhere above the shoulders. And I plan to stop by the gym and instruct Teyla and Ronon to do the same."
"Thank you, Carson," I told him with genuine gratitude. I didn't know what I was going to do if he had put his foot down and refused to let John workout, not after I'd convinced him he could do it in the first place… with a little help from Ronon, of course.
"Don't think I won't put a stop to it, Rodney, if I think he's endangering himself," he grumbled.
"You're a saint." He rolled his eyes at my praise. "No, seriously, they should canonize you. Saint Carson the Yielding, patron saint of blurring the lines and shearing the sheep."
With a shake of his head, Carson headed out of the lab and no doubt toward the gym. "No one gives a compliment like you, Rodney. You're as adept at delivering them as you are at caring for wee eggs."
Radek snickered at Carson's own backhanded compliment and I smiled wickedly at him. "You seem pretty happy for a man who was just randomly chosen to perform a quality check of your team's work for the past three days."
The Czech's own smile vanished at the thought of reviewing three days worth of data. "Do you even know meaning of word random?"
"Do you understand the meaning of quitting while you're ahead?"
"How exactly am I ahead?"
"I'm not making you go back and check for the whole week."
Straightening the ever-present Santa hat, Radek huffed, "I will have report for you by end of the day, Dr. Scrooge." As he stalked off, Simpson looked up from her own work station with a disapproving cluck of her tongue.
"You're next, Tiny Tim." My threat had her quickly turning back to her computer.
Suddenly brightened by having once again reestablished the chain of command in the lab, I hoped John was having as much luck in his return to his routine. Although, when I returned home a few hours later, I wasn't so sure that was the case.
"What the hell?" I demanded as I caught him gingerly peeling off his shirt to reveal a bruise along his ribs that was already purpling.
"Oh, good, you're home. You can help me with the bath and then put some salve on this."
"They swore to me they would take it easy on you." He winced away when I touched the discoloration, but my bitching stopped instantly when I noticed something I had seen since the accident… a smile.
"They did; which is why Ronon probably has worse behind his knees."
I shook my head in exasperation. "It's times like this I don't know if I should congratulate you or whack you upside the head."
The grin just grew into something else I hadn't seen in a few days… seduction. "How about a disapproving yet relieved kiss and some company in the tub?" With a fist in my shirt, he pulled me in close and his mouth found mine with practiced efficiency.
Licking my lips when his finally left them, I locked my hands in the small of his back. "If I'd known this would be the result, I would have let Ronon kick your ass days ago." He rested his forehead against mine and his shoulders slumped minutely and I was afraid I might have said the wrong thing. "John, I…"
He cut me off with another kiss before telling me. "Teyla taught me an Athosian technique for focusing today. You have to concentrate on the moment, just this single moment that you're in, nothing else. Don't try to guess what your opponent's going to do. Don't dwell on what he just did. Just stay in the present, this moment. Do you think we can do that?"
I understood instantly what he was getting at. No thinking about how this had happened and how he'd reacted those past few days because if he let himself remember, or if he thought about how this might all turn out when they removed the bandages, he'd crawl right back into bed and curl up in a fetal position and never get up. And, honestly, I'd be tempted to join him.
Instead I leaned in and kissed him back as I unfastened his pants and let them drop to the floor. "This is a pretty amazing moment," I assured him as I took his hand and led him to the bathroom. And a few minutes later with him soap-slick and warm in my hand, his back against my chest and head tilted back on my shoulder, the sound of my name in my ear as he gripped the edge of the tub and sent water sloshing over onto the tile floor, it became even more amazing.
But that was nothing compared to the way he took his time once we were back in our bed, mapping my body with his fingers, his lips, the tip of his tongue. Learning a new way to see me as he nuzzled and nipped up one side and down the other until I felt like my skin was on fire and I was quivering with every caress. "John…" I pleaded, not sure if I was begging him to keep it up or finally give me some relief. He settle for the latter and I wondered dazedly if he had seen stars despite his condition when he gasped my name the way I was seeing them as I clawed into his shoulder blades and groaned his.
When he settled in beside me, arms and legs wrapped around me as if he still needed to sense me any way he could, I was more than happy to oblige. "That," I panted, "was one… of the best… moments… of my life."
I felt his lips curl against my skin. "I'm glad I could be a part of it."
But the fact was, John Sheppard was responsible for pretty much every great moment I'd ever experienced. And if it took a little tough love, not to mention the more traditional kind, to convince him that his perfect eye sight had nothing to do with the fact, then so be it. I was more than up to the challenge.
Or at least I would be as soon as I could feel my extremities again.
I had Rodney drop me off at the gym the next morning and the second he was gone promptly had Teyla take me to Dr. Leander's office. I wanted to talk to that overeducated Weeble before all this was over. And, yeah, a little Rodney was seeping through. But come on…eggs, Nanas, blindness—it was a lot to deal with. I was allowed a McKay-esque inner temper tantrum if I wanted.
"Colonel, good to see you up and about," she said as Teyla settled me into a chair and left.
"Yeah, everyone keeps saying that," I grunted as I sat. "Actually I'm here to talk about Rodney, not my…." I waved a hand in the general vicinity of my bandaged eyes.
"I didn't expect anything different," she said placidly. I heard nails tapping on her desk, but tiny ones. Freud was up there taking a stroll. "So, let's talk. Enlighten me. That's what you're here to do, isn't it? Tell me what I should believe rather than what I observe and perhaps threaten my dog while you're at it."
"You don't know the half of it," I said firmly then smiled. It wasn't my charming smile, I had a thousand and one of those fake suckers tucked away for various occasions. No, this was a real smile…hard and unrelenting. "I'm sure you pulled the SGC tech's yearly psych evals for the past few years to compare to the SGA tech's, right? You're thorough that way."
"Why, yes, Colonel, I did," she said cautiously. "You can't study someone or someones without a comparison group."
"So." I leaned back in the chair and immediately a thump hit my lap. Freud was feeling benevolent today. Maybe he wanted to be my seeing-eye dog. I immediately steered my thoughts back where they belonged. "So," I repeated, "what's the SGC tech's number one fear?"
"I can't speak to a personal patient, of course, confidentiality and all, but as an average…being killed by the Ori or the Gouald or a return of the Replicators."
"Uh huh." I gingerly patted wiry fur and sweater. "And what's the SGA tech's number one fear?"
"Quite easy and across the board there: Dr Meredith Rodney McKay," she said wryly.
"Then in your mind, it's better to be afraid of horrifying alien induced death….than to be afraid of your boss?" I asked mildly.
"Hmmmm." She sounded surprised. I doubted it was often Dr Leander sounded that way. "When you put it that way…."
I interrupted, "And who has the highest productivity between the two groups? Because, Doctor, we both know what warms a general's heart. Productivity. And what does he not give a damn about in comparison? Whining about your boss." I put Freud on the floor…or somewhere near the floor. "And to be honest…I killed every single Rodney Junior. Squashed the first catching McKay when he passed out, tossed the second one to him in his hospital bed before the thought crossed my mind you shouldn't toss infants…even infant eggs. I led his cat to shred the third one, losing most of his egg powder, and I was the one who set him on the balcony edge and let the seagull push him off to his watery doom. And I shot the last one. Rodney did his damnedest to keep that thing in one piece. Almost died because of it. If it's anyone who needs psychiatric help, it's me." Then I added hastily, "But no thanks. I'm done killing eggs and cartons." I stood and said 'Teyla' into my com. "Think about it Dr Leander. Fear of death versus fear of your boss. Low productivity versus the highest in the military. I'll bet you write up a report that makes McKay look like a hero for protecting his people from worse fears and get a bonus for pointing out the productivity benefits." The door opened and Teyla took my arm. "Later, Dr Leander."
Then we were out in the hall and Dr Leander hadn't gotten the last word in. One thing about Dr. Leander—she did respect logic and every word I'd said had been nothing but. She'd see things my way…the right way, I had no doubt. "Let's go kick Ronon's ass," I said to Teyla cheerfully. "Two on one, we'll have him crying for his mommy."
A few days later, I ducked Ronon's practice sword and said casually, "What's up, Rodney?"
"Hey," I heard him sputter, "how'd you know I was here?"
"Maybe because you stomp around like a three thousand pound Macrovian Horned Beast?" Ronon grunted, swinging again and tapping me on the back. He was really pulling his punches there. I wouldn't even have a bruise. Sometimes I thought Rodney was the only thing Ronon was afraid of. Wraith, forget about it. Replicators, not a problem. A pissed off McKay more than ready to yell at him for hours for one tiny bruise, that was different. I thought there was probably even a legend among the Wraith about the hideous torture suffered by one of their own kind, good old Todd, that involved Rodney telling his stories over and over and over until death seemed a noble escape.
"I do not!" Rodney sputtered even louder.
"Or the rustling of your hair falling to the floor like fall leaves," Ronon went on serenely and whacked me again. Or tried. This time I heard the rush of air and leaped backward managing to stay on my feet.
"I smelled you," I said before it got too out of hand. "That milk and honey soap your sister sends you." I grinned. "That makes your skin so silky smooth."
Teyla's voice came from near my elbow. "Indeed? Perhaps I could try some, Rodney. It sounds quite decadent."
The outrage was immediate. Funny, I couldn't see, but Rodney's anger sounded purple…not red like I would've thought. "My sister sends it to me. It's vegetarian friendly and it's better than the lava pumice sandpaper soap they pass out here. I happen to like my skin and keeping it on my body is important to me. Are you ready for lunch, Sheppard, or should we stay here and discuss my hygiene a little more? There's still my toothpaste and aftershave to cover."
"About the toothpaste," Ronon drawled. "It smells kind of like a small domesticated pet we had on Sateda….."
I put out a hand and caught Rodney before he made it past me to Ronon. The Satedan was right. Rodney did tend to stomp. "Lunch sounds good. I'm ready for lunch." I turned my head and said into the velvety darkness, "Thanks for the workout, guys."
At the cafeteria, Rodney handed me a tray. I fumbled a little but did all right enough I didn't embarrass myself. "So describe the Cordon Bleu delights I get to choose from," I said cheerfully. It wasn't a completely genuine cheer, but enough of it was that I felt Rodney's stiff shoulder relax against mine. We'd gone from him giving me massages after the past three days of work-outs to me giving him massages. His muscles were in far worse shape than mine. Stiff and knotted…as if he'd taken all of my stress and fear for me and was walking around, a bottle ready to pop. Explode.
After lunch…which ironically enough was better without having to see it…we went back to our room. He flopped on the bed and I carefully straddled his lower back, pulled his shirt off and began a slow and thorough massage, using my thumbs along his spine. I could feel the bone, the warm skin. He groaned and that was an interesting sensation that vibrated through my thighs then upward. "How did we end up like this?" he mumbled. I could picture his head turned sideways against the pillow, light brown hair wispy, eyes shut, jaw softer than its normal stubborn jut. I could picture it so sharply, so clearly…I couldn't lose that. Even if I never saw anything again, I couldn't lose that vision of Rodney.
"Because you took my burden along with yours and it's too much." I bent down and kissed his shoulder. I missed by a little, hitting the curve instead of the scapula, but I soon made my way to the nape of his neck. I kissed again, warm and slow, then replaced my lips with my flexing fingers. "Thanks for that, Rodney."
"I'm not saying 'you're welcome' because this is what we do for each other. You do it for me. I do it for you. That's what makes us so goddamn perfect." His muscles loosened under my fingers.
"Perfect like milk and honey?" I teased. That led to some more massaging of different parts for both of us. And it was milk and honey—smooth and sweet and I could never get enough.
I fell asleep wrapped around Rodney. I wasn't completely happy. I was still apprehensive about the bandages coming off, but Rodney had kept me busy…shown me the things I could do. Thing I never would've guessed. It was a good feeling, right until I swam out of sleep to taste blood on my lip and flail arms, feeling for a wall, a piece of furniture. Anything. I felt wall. I just didn't know which wall. But I could do this, I pushed down the panic. I could. "Computer." My voice cracked slightly. "Computer, this is Colonel John Sheppard. Where am I?"
A smooth voice said, "In the hall outside your quarters, Colonel Sheppard, two point five meters from your door."
Great. I didn't walk in my sleep often but sometimes nature calls and the mind doesn't wake up. With a hand on the wall, I turned slowly and headed into the darkness, arm outstretched. I felt the door and was about to think it open when it was instantly gone and Rodney's hands were on me. "Where'd you go? There's blood on your lip. Jesus, John, you're doing fantastic, but I hope to God you didn't think you were going on a jog around the floor by yourself. Are you an idiot? Hello? I'm talking to you here."
Babbling was more like it. He led me to the bathroom and started cleaning the blood from my lip. The salty taste was whisked away as I said, "I think I had to go the bathroom. I was walking in my sleep. Like Bugs says, I must've taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque."
There was a faint strangled noise and if I could've seen, I knew I would've seen Rodney's face turn reddish purple. He was trying so hard to make things normal for me…more normal anyway…to show me things I never thought I could've done and now I had to throw sleepwalking into the mix. But he only said mildly, "Piss away, Colonel. Your lip has only a tiny split." Which he proved by kissing me lightly. "I'll wait in bed for you." By the time I found my way back, I felt Rodney on the outside.
"Hey, scoot over." I slept on the outside, between Rodney and the door. Always had, always would.
"Until the bandages come off, I get to play self-sacrificing hero instead of you," he said loftily, the pressure of his wrist fastening around mine and pulling me over the top of him to lie between his stomach and the wall.
"I feel claustrophobic," I scowled instantly, not that I did. I simply wanted back where I belonged.
"That sounds oddly like my own patented whine. So suck it up, Sheppard, as you so often tell me." An arm was thrown over my waist and a kiss planted behind my ear. "I was thinking of moving the bed in Hawaii into the middle of the bedroom just to see you twitch and convulse trying to cover all vulnerable points at once."
"Ass," I mumbled.
"Hole," he mumbled back, arm tightening as we both drifted into sleep. Him a lot sooner than me. I was trying to picture telling the SGC that I was still a vital member of the team when I couldn't find the bathroom in the middle of the night. Despite the bandage and blindness, I could picture those looks with crystal clarity.
And then the day came.
I didn't want to get up. If I didn't get up, I didn't have to know it had failed. Of course that didn't work. Rodney badgered and pushed and actually tried to dress me like a goddamn Ken doll when I refused to cooperate. "Goddamnit," I snarled. "Quit it. I'll do it already."
As I finished dressing, a pill was pressed into my hand. "What's this for?" I asked in surprise. "Nothing hurts."
"Oh, it's not a pain pill. It's a Midol for your obvious menstruation bitchiness. Radek gave them to me. Now I pass the gift onto you."
I could hear the smirk and when I felt for his face and tried to shove the Midol up one nostril I could hear the panic just as clearly. "Cut it out. You know I have allergies. I could aspirate that and catch Midol triggered pneumonia as I suck that down in my lung. Then I'll die. A horrible wheezing death."
Oddly, the tirade made me feel better. It was as ordinary as ordinary could be and I desperately needed ordinary. And when I needed even more, Rodney gave me that too. As I sat in the infirmary surrounded by specialists and Carson. Rodney held my hand. I doubt you could've pried our palms apart, they were so pasted together with sweat.
"Could you move aside and give us some room?" a slightly snooty voice said out of the darkness.
"No," Rodney answered promptly. "I can't. I'm frozen in this position for the near foreseeable future. Perhaps forever. So why don't you get to work, Marcus Welby?"
"Oh Lord," Carson muttered in the fog.
The bandages were slowly unwrapped. I felt the ruffle of them against my hair. Then the pads against my eyes were peeled away. I was warned to keep my eyes shut as my eyelids were cleaned with a gentle smelling astringent. Rodney's grip was grinding my bones or maybe mine was doing it to his. "Love you," came the murmured whisper at my ear. The 'no matter what' went unspoken. I sucked in a deep breath and the pads were removed. I blinked several times. It was dark, but I could see lights blinking. I could see. "Turn up the lights," I demanded. The darkness lifted to a gray gloom, but it was enough. I could see him. I could see the round face, stubbled, the dark circles under hazy blue eyes and the hope that was anything but. It was…ironically…blinding. "You didn't comb your hair this morning," I said a little hoarsely.
It was true. It stuck up on end in some spots and was flattened in others. He looked like a bum, ready to beg a quarter for coffee, and he was the best damn sight I'd ever seen. I let go of his hot hand, fisted his shirt and pulled him forward to kiss him. "And you look like shit and I see every goddamn bit of it."
"Really?" I tried to control the way my voice cracked at the news, but more than that, at the way John's eyes flickered across my face, recognizing, remembering, seeing it. He was fucking seeing it. With his hand still wrapped tightly in my shirtfront, his lips curled slightly, and I grabbed the nearest arm I could find and demanded, "Check him. Right now. Check him and make sure."
"Dr. McKay, maybe one of the specialists should do that." I turned to see I'd latched onto the nurse who had been holding the tray for the surgeon who had removed the bandages.
"Rodney, come away from there, lad, and let Dr. Ozaki work." Carson was trying for a chastising tone, but he couldn't hide his own smile of pleasure when John's eyes tracked me as the Scot pulled me back.
I found my own eyes unable to leave him, watching anxiously as they flicked lights and flashed images in front of John. Eventually I sat and rubbed wearily at them when it was obvious the procedure had worked and he could really, truly, see again.
It ends up it he wasn't at one hundred percent, images were still blurry, especially at a distance, and his focus was slow to adjust. But he was close, damn close– close enough that the specialist was left shaking his head in wonder at how much progress had been made in such a short amount of time. After a few scans with the Ancient equipment, Ozaki was convinced the stem cells were still working their repairs and, if all went as well as it had over the past week, John would be back to normal within a month.
By the time the tests were completed, Teyla and Ronon were there. Actually, I should say that Teyla couldn't keep Ronon waiting out in the hallway any longer and they had finally come into the infirmary to see for themselves what had no doubt spread throughout the city by now… Lt. Colonel John Sheppard could once again be counted among the sighted. Teyla played up the fact that John's coordination had no doubt improved as a result of his ordeal and he would be a more skilled fighter as a result. Ronon jabbed that he gave it two weeks before Sheppard returned to his sloppy form and was back to nursing bruises and cuts on a regular basis. I pointed out that I hadn't really noticed a decrease in the number of bruises, probably due to the fact that I also hadn't noticed any improvement in coordination, so things had pretty much maintained the status quo.
"Hey, give a guy a break," John grumped. "I was blind."
"Was being the operative word," I pointed out cheerfully, rocking back on my heels. The room was still dim given his lingering sensitivity to bright light, but that, too, was expected to fade soon enough, just like his ire did when I reminded him of the fact we were talking past tense.
But the frown returned when Ronon gave a shrug. "Face it, Sheppard. You can't play the sympathy card. We're not going to coddle you anymore."
"Coddle? Since when is beating a person with a wooden sword considered coddling?"
"That wasn't a beating," the large man snorted. "I had worse from my grandmother growing up on Sateda." When Teyla raised her eyebrows curiously, Ronon grinned in reminiscence. "She taught me that jumping plunge attack when I was seven."
"Christ, Rodney Junior wouldn't have made it out of infancy on Sateda," I observed in horror at the thought of growing up as Ronon had.
"Yeah, because he did so well here on Atlantis," John noted in return.
I crossed my arms and regarded him. "And whose fault was that?"
"According to Dr. Nana's report she's probably writing as we speak, it's all mine."
John's confession had me slamming my mouth closed on the protest poised on the tip of my tongue. "What?"
"Merry Christmas, McKay," he grinned smugly and I suddenly realized he hadn't spent all his time away from me in the gym. I also realized we still had a Christmas celebration ahead of us even though we were two days past the holiday.
We'd just skipped it this year, pretended it still hadn't arrived. Neither of us saying anything about it, it was just a silent agreement that we'd wait until… after. Good news or bad, it was to be either a celebration of our unbelievable good luck, or a way to try to find a bit of normalcy in a situation that had turned out to be anything but. Teyla only took part in the annual base festivities out of cultural curiosity and diplomacy, and Ronon took part in anything that involved alcohol. But this year the two of them played along with our ruse, as well. They had taken John to the gym as they had the rest of the week, joined us on a quiet balcony for an ordinary team dinner instead of eating the elaborate holiday meal with the rest of the expedition in the cafeteria and pretended, like John and I were, that it was just another day.
And it ended up being one the best family gatherings I'd ever attended.
Apparently they'd been conspiring with John on a way to get me a clean psychological bill of health on top of everything else. Before I could ask how they'd managed that, Ronon told us both. "If it makes you feel any better, I doubt Rodney Senior would have survived that long on Sateda, either."
With a wince I admitted, "Actually, it doesn't."
John wore a similar expression. "It doesn't make me feel any better, either."
"Then we should just be thankful that Rodney was born on Earth instead." Teyla smiled at all of us before letting her eyes come to rest on John. "Among other things."
I had to agree that compared to what I'd seen in Pegasus, Earth wasn't such a shabby place to be born. For one thing there, was an abundant and widespread use of indoor plumping. For another there was a beach house in Hawaii that we happened to own. And finally, there was this great store called Home Depot.
As I pulled the rental car into the driveway, John straightened from his slump in the passenger seat when I stopped before parking under the carport. His confusion turned to a grin when he saw the paint supplies stacked neatly in the headlights. "You finally made up your mind, huh?"
"Anything to stop your incessant nagging," I sighed dramatically before leaning over and kissing him. "Just try to avoid falling to your demise from the ladder, will you? It tends to ruin the joy of gift giving when the present is listed as the cause of death on the coroners report."
"Just try to limit the supervision from the ground and I should be fine." His kiss in return was interrupted by Jeannie coming out the front door to greet us.
"I thought you were supposed to be here before us," she pointed out as I exited the car.
"We were stuck for nine hours in LAX with engine trouble." My complaint was spoken into her hair as she pulled me in for a quick welcoming hug.
"It got so bad Rodney was even offering to lend a hand with the repairs."
Jeannie smiled at John a he opened the trunk to pull out our bags. "I'm sure that went over well."
"When he went from offering to insisting, I was afraid I'd have to call the SGC to bail us out of lockup."
"Hey, if they'd just let me we would have been here five hours ago."
My sister rolled her eyes at my assessment. "Yes, because Nana's toaster worked so much better after you fixed it."
"I was seven," I defended. "And her cat enjoyed chasing after the pieces that got away from Nana."
"They were sour dough missiles," she argued in return before telling John conspiratorially, "She had to replace her kitchen window twice."
I threw up my arms in frustration at just one more childhood mishap Jeannie felt the need to recap even as she threw her arms around John's neck. "I'm so glad everything's worked out with your eyesight."
John Sheppard is many things, but a hugger he is not. I've always been struck by the irony of Ronon, the man who can cause the need for adult diapers with just a look, breaking into spontaneous bear hugging when the mood strikes him. Whereas John, who comes across as everybody's friend, looks like he's embracing a cactus if the need arises. Over the years, I'd decided he was evidently much more comfortable with the whole holding thing if he was alone, and preferably nude and in bed with me. But fully clothed and in eyesight of anyone else, I think he'd be more comfortable facing down a full Hive of Wraith single-handedly than be stuck having to return a hug. Teyla had never been deterred from trying, and neither had Jeannie, and John, to his credit, gave it his damnedest to at least give a semblance of an embrace in return.
"Thanks," he told her with a hand placed gently on her shoulder blade.
Jeannie took it in stride, understanding without questioning that that was just how John was. She'd learned a lot about Sheppard over the years. Probably the most telling had come early in my and John's relationship when we'd gone through the whole kidnapping/ nanite infection ordeal. I'd never come out and told her exactly what had happened, but she is my sister so, yes, a genius as well. She'd pieced together enough to come to a fairly accurate conclusion of what had happened.
"If he was willing to do that for me, what would he do for you?" she'd asked me in quiet wonder over a cup of coffee the day we'd gone car shopping.
"Anything," I'd told her simply, covering my own wonder at the absolute truth of my statement. And the fact was, what he had done was just as much for me as it was for her or her family.
"Morally, I shouldn't be as comforted by that as I am," she admitted. But when it came down to it, I knew she was almost as thankful that I had someone like John looking out for me as I was to have him. And if it meant she was the one who initiated the hugs and settled for a light pat on the back in return, she didn't complain. In fact, it was just the opposite.
Pushing John back to arm's length, she beamed happily at him. "Come on, you guys must be exhausted. We have some left over pizza we ordered a few hours ago."
"It doesn't have tofu on it, does it?" I grimaced.
She sighed at the jab. "Vegetarian doesn't always mean tofu, Mer."
"Not according to Kaleb," I mumbled just loud enough for her to hear before saying, "Are there at least pepperonis?"
"Merideth," she cried in exasperation.
"What? Pepperonis aren't meat."
"Oh, really? And just what exactly are they?"
"Glorified condiments. You wouldn't sic PETA on a mustard or catsup factory would you?"
"If they were grinding up pigs to make it, I would."
"Oh, man, if only," I taunted dreamily.
I received a punch in my shoulder for my trouble. "Do you realize how smart pigs are? They have an I.Q. equivalent to a two year old."
"Really?" I looked over my shoulder at John. "Maybe I've been recruiting my staff from the wrong places. Screw Harvard, I'll try the stock yards next time." John tried his best to look disapproving and failed miserably.
"You are such an ass," Jeannie informed me. "You wouldn't eat a two-year-old child would you?"
"Depends," I shrugged. "Does it taste like pepperoni?"
"You're the pig, Mer. I'm really starting to rethink you watching Madison while we go out to dinner tomorrow night. I mean, first the Bratz doll for Christmas and now talk of eating children. Seriously, what were you thinking sending her a doll like that? I mean, that's hardly the image I want for my daughter…"
As Jeannie droned on about what a lousy uncle I was, I shot John a panicked look. His lips were twitching and I had a feeling it had more to do with the fact that he had been the one to order the Christmas presents this year… okay, every year, and that was probably why my niece was now the proud owner of a Barbie of ill repute… but I had focused in on something else Jeannie had said.
"You want us to babysit?"
"Oh, don't you dare try to back out of this," she demanded. "Kaleb and I haven't been out on our own someplace nice in… well, honestly, I can't remember when the last time we went out someplace that didn't have placemats that came with crayons. You promised you'd do this when we first set up coming..."
Raising a hand to stop her rant, I winced. "Okay, okay, just… she doesn't have any bizarre propensity for being attacked by sea birds, does she? Or domesticated cats for that matter?"
Jeannie looked at me like I was insane. "What are you talking about?"
"It's just me… watching a kid…" I couldn't help the flashes of the many, many demises of Rodney Junior. "She's not flammable is she?"
Giving me a reassuring smile and squeeze to my arm, Jeannie promised, "You'll be fine."
"Would you be willing to sign a waiver on all damages?" I asked anxiously as I trailed after her toward the front door.
"Madison is very easy going child. You'll have fun. Besides, you'll have John to help you."
That was when Sheppard finally keyed into the conversation, and his eyes widened in the same panic my own had. "Whoa, hey, wait a minute…" After all, he'd been present for every cracked egg, every shredded, mangled, plummeting, and exploding egg carton.
"You two." Jeannie gave an amused chuckle at our reluctance and shook her head. "There's nothing to be worried about. It'll be a piece of cake."
With a final desperate look at each other, we followed my sister into the house. "Seriously, what Rodney said about the waiver, I think that might be a good idea," John tried one last time.
Oh, God, we were so screwed. Where was an overloading ZedPm when you needed one?