A Habit of Force Part 12
Beckett looked over his shoulder to the infirmary bed where his newest patient lay sleeping. "A mild concussion and a nasty three inch cut on his scalp. Bled like a bugger but head wounds always do." Beckett's eyes teased a little. "I had to shave off the hair around it to stitch it up."
Sheppard smiled. "O-o-o Rodney's not going to be pleased about that."
"I know." Beckett gestured to a chair. "He should be awake soon. He was unconscious at first but now he's just sleeping. I supposed you'll be wanting to wait here until he wakes up?"
Sheppard took a seat. "Just for a minute."
"Just as well," Beckett took his own seat and his tone turned serious. "He's here overnight so I can keep an eye on that bump. I plan on taking another scan tomorrow to make sure there's no intracranial swelling. At any rate there's something we need to discuss."
Beckett cleared his throat. "I wanted to-eh-keep this off the record, at least for now."
Sheppard felt his cautiously good mood vanish. "By your expression I'm assuming its bad news." Why couldn't it ever be good news? Or even so-so news?
"Not exactly, it's more, well..." Beckett gestured to his lap top and motioned for the colonel to scoot his chair closer. "I've been charting the birth rates of our men, the womb-men that is, and we've seen mostly healthy babies being born over the last year, but there is a problem and I am afraid it's with the numbers."
Sheppard frowned. "We've got a good crop of thirteen or fourteen kids don't we? Seems to me like we're pretty successful - the nursery is full every day."
Beckett nodded. "Yes, that's true and I am happy to report no major illnesses among the babies, other than a crop of the usual childhood diseases native to the Pegasus galaxy. But the problem is, colonel, since the Athosians started regularly supplying our Atlantean couples with a variety of home-made contraceptives, there's been an almost complete drop off in new pregnancies."
"So we're slowing down but there are bound to be some new pregnancies aren't there? No birth control method is full proof." Sheppard watched the doctor's face "But that's not what you're worried about is it?"
"That's right." Beckett showed Sheppard a chart he had put together that morning on his laptop. He had rose early in fact and, bolstered by a cup of home-grown coffee, made the chart before anyone else had arrived. "Fourteen babies is a good start but at the rate of new pregnancies now – which thus far is only one womb-man this month - we will not be able to replace the population of Atlantis – not soon enough. We need an entire new generation of viable, breeding couples, or triples or whatever the case may be, if Atlantis is to survive and if we as a species are to reproduce in sufficient numbers. Even twenty, thirty or fifty children won't be even close to enough to accomplish that."
"So how many babies are we talking about here?"
"At the very least we're speaking of replacement values, and that means over a hundred children – and remember not all of those might turn out to be womb-men, as it is we're sitting at roughly twenty percent of men with the necessary equipment – if you understand me – to be able to carry a child to term, so a better number would be closer to two hundred offspring in order to just maintain the levels of womb-men needed to produce the next generation and then those womb-men producing the generation after that."
"So we need to encourage our fellows to...I guess 'get busy'?"
"Yes, and as quickly and -er-vigorously as possible if ya' get my meaning."
"So we encourage them to..." Sheppard waved one hand around to avoid actually saying the words.
"Well, yes, encouragement...aye that might work for a few for a while but naturally there will be some resistance to the idea. I'm thinking colonel that we might need to go beyond mere encouragement."
"And how do we do that?"
"We need to make this situation known to everyone in the city and if it becomes necessary we need to make it mandatory for the womb-men to give birth to at least six to ten children each."
Sheppard straightened his slouch. "I'm thinking there's going to be some resistance to that Doc'. Not everyone is cut out for fatherhood."
Beckett nodded his concern. "Of course there will be some who will be unwilling but if we don't get these birth numbers up, the population of this settlement will begin to decline almost immediately. Remember that although most of the womb-men are between twenty and thirty years old, a good number of them are older than that and some are Rodney's age."
Sheppard tried to think how old Rodney was. Thirty-nine? Forty? "But men can have kids until they're-" Then Sheppard stopped himself. Of course that might be true of the sire fathers but not necessarily the birth fathers. "Um how long...how many years can someone, say, well, someone Rodney's age, still get pregnant?"
Beckett crossed his arms. "I wish I had an answer for you, but this men giving birth is all so new, and we're still in the learning process, unfortunately, but medically I think it's wise to assume that it will not be into old age. The sooner we hear the pitter-patter of a hell of a lot of little feet running around this settlement, the better off we'll be as a people."
Beckett had voiced what Sheppard had not considered, at least not in words, and it left him a bit disconcerted. Atlantis was now a settlement. This was no longer an expedition they were on, it was the founding of a new world and the Pegasus galaxy was likely to begin producing changes in her new population of Milky Way origin humans – changes physiological and otherwise – men knocking up other men was a biggie, but some other not-so-obvious alterations had probably already begun; things about which they were not yet aware. Mother Pegasus was slowly but surely transforming them into a whole new branch of humanity.
A settlement. And they were probably never going to be able to take the voyage home again. Because of that Sheppard was only too aware of the responsibilities riding on his own shoulders and those of the department heads. Ultimately, whether Atlantis as a human colony in Pegasus would survive and thrive, he was aware that much of it would depend on its leaders, and the willingness of its womb-men to get preggers as often as possible.
Sheppard took a deep breath, suddenly feeling a bit shaky. Lately he'd noticed his heart rate increasing whenever he lay awake at night worrying about what might lie ahead plus Beckett had grown increasingly concerned about his colonel's rising blood pressure, often voicing advice to slow down and relax a bit.
But how do you slow down with so much going on? How do you relax when every day brings new worries to your in-box? This last year had given Sheppard a large taste of the pressure under which many of his department heads had lived. McKay came to mind in particular who had for years operated under Atlantis's pressure cooker on a daily basis. During most crises everyone had stopped to look at him, to one man, expecting him to save them, to work a miracle, or to stay alert for days on end so he could ensure that he or others, under his guidance, would bring said miracle about.
Sheppard licked his lips. As a leader his own formidable responsibilities had never been greater, but now he had a far sharper understanding, and appreciation, of why McKay snacked compulsively, why he went so many nights sleepless even when the city was not under attack, even why his nails were bitten to the quick. And why the physicist's health had so often become an issue. It also explained why Beckett dragged the man down in his infirmary so regularly for a check-up, even before the womb thing had come into play.
They were cut off from Earth and their home galaxy; they were an isolated group living on a new planet, under very different conditions than the norm – the norm for their species at least – and enduring some exceptionally stressful encounters with other races bent on their destruction. Even their major food sources had changed. In effect they were becoming a new species and not just because of the womb-men scenario. Sooner than later they would become other than homo-sapiens, something new. No longer the humans they had once been. The Pegasus Homo Sapiens were careening down an off-ramp into unknown territory.
Natural selection dictated it. They were evolving.
And into this mix of deprivation, stress and fear Beckett was urging the addition of many dozens, perhaps hundreds, of new offspring.
Sheppard looked across the short space between their chairs. "Christ..."
Rodney had to snatch his fingers out of the way when Ronan slammed down the cover on his laptop. "What the hell?"
Ronan crossed his arms and straightened his spine, appearing even taller than usual. "You've been in here for three days straight. Time for a break."
Rodney threw Ronan his best scowl, but fatigue weakened his resolve to be truly irritated. "I have to pin down these power fluctuations. Showers and the kitchen's ovens wait for no man or," he looked up at his hairy, towering mate "beast. Besides I've been home to sleep every night."
Ronan returned the scowl. "Beckett wants you to rest more."
"Beckett isn't responsible for keeping this place running."
"The kids miss you." Then he said softly. "Me too."
The last of his irritation popped out of existence. "Sorry."
"Never mind. Just take a break."
The babies were asleep and Ronan wasted no time in getting his stubborn mate undressed, showered and into bed. Just as the scientist was closing his eyes for some much needed sleep, Ronan surprised Rodney by rolling over on top of him.
Sensing his intent, Rodney glanced at the bedside table. "Hey Conan, protection. I don't want any more pregnancies."
"Already got it." Ronan wiggled a sheath made of the local equivalent of rubber, and then reminded him "I'm pretty sure Sheppard wants one of his own you know, a kid I mean."
Rodney set his chin. "Yeah, well, maybe...for John, maybe just one. But for now..."
Ronan divested himself of his clothes and snapped the sheath into place over his already hard member. "Fine by me." Then he leaned in and kissed his smaller mate hungrily. "For now all I want is this."
"What do you mean I'm pregnant?"
Vainly did Beckett try to block his hearing from the din of Rodney's high-pitched inquiry.
Rodney didn't notice his doctor's ear discomfort. "I can't be pregnant. We used protection." He insisted. "Every time."
Beckett waited until the ringing in his left ear – the one turned toward McKay – subsided. "I'm afraid it's true Rodney. And it appears you're already a month along."
Rodney flopped back onto the stiff mattress of Beckett's hated infirmary bed. Then he sat up triumphantly. "Hah! That's impossible. Know why? Because Ronan and I only had sex for the first time in eight weeks five days ago," He announced smugly. So your test is wrong Carson – do it again."
Carson looked at him pityingly. "It's not wrong Rodney. The paternity – other than the baby also being yours that is - indicates it is not Ronan's."
Rodney stared up at him.
Beckett asked gently. "Were you and colonel Sheppard – er – together around that time?"
With a sinking heart Rodney recalled their second or two encounters. Ronan away on a meat hunt for the colony, himself alone with the charming colonel, plus free time and too much home-made Elsaberry wine. "Shit." Rodney said. "But we used protection that time too."
Beckett raised his eyebrows. "Rodney, condoms, especially the reusable ones Atlantis has been acquiring from the Athosians, can break." He cleared his throat. "How many times did Sheppard use that particular condom? You are only supposed to use them twice and then send them for recycling."
Rodney appeared uncomfortable. "Um...maybe three times?" He said uncertainly, and then defensively. "Well, he said it still looked okay, the letch." Damn all pretty colonels with hazel eyes and insistent hands!
Beckett decided to skip reminding the scientist - who had angry hands fisted in the sheets - that a visual inspection of a condom was a wasted effort. A pin hole would be enough. "Er, well I can run the test again if you like, but there's no doubt in my mind – you are pregnant and most likely with Colonel Sheppard's offspring."
Rodney swung his legs over the side of the bed and jumped down. "Are we done? Can I go now?"
"Yes, but I want you in here bi-weekly for a scan. Set up a time with the duty nurse."
Rodney nodded his head impatiently, hating the thought of reporting back to his idea of hell every two weeks for the next four months. "Yeah, yeah, I know the drill."
When the door slid aside and Rodney stormed into the room, Sheppard was busy holding his youngest son while Ronan was feeding their oldest from a bottle.
They both looked up at him with some surprise. "Hey Rodney," Sheppard said, "Didn't expect you to emerge from of your lab for another eight hours."
Rodney set his jaw and glared at the man responsible for his current state. "You!" he pointed an accusing finger. "Stay the hell away from me from now on." Then he turned on his heel to leave.
"Hey Rodney – what the hell-?" Sheppard asked, his face a storm of confusion. "Where are you going?"
Not reining in his peddling legs – "Where else? To my lab where I can get some work done while I still have time."
After the door closed Sheppard looked over at Ronan. "What the hell was that all about?"
"He seemed a bit crazier than usual." Ronan took a guess. "Hormones maybe?"
The implication of that sank into Sheppard and he paled considerably. "Holy shit."
Not five minutes after sitting down at his computer to stew over his new problem, Sheppard stormed into the lab and stared at Rodney. Before a single word was exchanged, Sheppard glanced over at Zelenka and a group of a half dozen tech's, jerking a thumb over his shoulder. The Czech scientist and the junior staff understood that a storm was about to erupt and made a grateful and rapid scramble for the exit.
Sheppard walked around the desk so he could stand toe to toe with his best friend, narrowing his eyes at him, and then squinting suspiciously as Rodney took one tiny step back while his Adam's apple bobbed nervously in his throat. "Are you pregnant?" Sheppard asked quietly.
Sheppard had to admire McKay's resolve to stare him down, not-withstanding the scientist's itsy-bitsy retreat. "Um...why do you ask?"
Sheppard stepped closer, this time resting his hands on Rodney's broad shoulders. The scientist might have been two inches shorter than himself but the little man was built square and solid. "Come on Rodney...the way you're acting. You're terrified and lately there's only one thing that scares you..."
Rodney swallowed audibly. "Well I've a right to be. Beckett said I'm a month along." He stamped his foot. "Dammit!" He looked at his friend, infuriated at his calmness. "This wasn't supposed to happen again and it's all your fault."
Sheppard bit his lip. Was he scared? Damn straight. But along with the fear of becoming a father there was something else stirring in his chest. Pride of course. And anticipation, curiosity...even the tiniest spark of joy? He was shocked to admit it. Rodney was, at least right now, less than enthusiastic. He had to be careful how he worded it. "I seem to remember your willing participation. Look Rodney, I know you didn't want this again, but I'm...I'm glad, really. I'm good with this. Really good."
Jesus was he ever good! All he could think about was wrapping his arms around his pig-headed friend and squeezing the stuffing out of him. But he knew that might not be the best move. Despite his enthusiasm in the bedroom, Rodney was not the hugging type at all. "I hope...you'll, you know, eventually come to be good with it too."
McKay stepped back and fell onto his desk stool. "I guess I don't have much choice, do I?" then seeing Sheppard's disappointed face. "Look, Ronan may have mentioned you would probably want a kid, so here you go - I guess you're getting one." McKay huffed and then offered up a tired half smile. "Congratulations dad."
Sheppard returned the smile, his much more into the moment than his counterpart's. "Got an hour to spare?"
McKay rubbed his eyes. "For what?"
"Let's take a Jumper out for a ride."
Sheppard landed the craft halfway between the sand of the nearest beach and a strip of forest. Once the craft was shut down and secured, Sheppard lead Rodney outside and turned toward the line of trees. "Come on."
Not in the mood for a hike, McKay groaned his displeasure. "Where are we going?"
Sheppard did not turn back around. "Not far. Just come on."
Rodney trudged unhappily after the colonel and after ten minutes of walking, they came to a clearing. Sheppard stopped and looked around. "We figure this is a good spot."
Rodney seemed unimpressed. "Oh?" It was clearing in the trees several dozen hectares in scope and draped with flowering grasses. Birds chirped and insects buzzed. Overhead the sun beamed down its warm rays into his eyes. "And who is "We"?"
"Ronan and I scouted this out a few weeks ago when you were buried for days in your lab."
With no little sarcasm - "Well, someone has to work."
Sheppard just smiled mysteriously at him, further irritating the already irked Canadian. "Why are we here John?"
Sheppard took in a deep breath of the crisp, clean air. "I wanted you to see where we're going to build it."
This was all too much! "Build what?"
Sheppard put his hands on narrow hips and announced proudly - "Our house."
"Are you nuts?"
Sheppard shook his head at his mate's stubborn refusal to see the good in his and Ronan's idea. "No not really."
Rodney stared at his colonel as though his head had just exploded. "You want to leave Atlantis and-and start - what? "Roughing it"?" McKay's were near popping from their sockets. "Start chopping wood and fetching water like cave-men? Although I'm sure Ronan would fit in like the proverbial peg in the hole."
Sheppard turned in a circle with his arms wide. "Look at this place Rodney. Are you saying you prefer to raise our kids in the city? And I'm not talking about moving here permanently, I'm saying a weekend place. Somewhere we can bring the boys for fun. You do remember what fun is right?"
"Of course I remember what fun is." McKay said defiantly. "I happen to be a fun guy."
Sheppard looked at him cock-eyed. "Oh really?"
"You? The man who thinks coffee and calculus is the perfect way to start the day?"
"It is if you want our child's brain to develop properly – yes Mister Aim and Blow Holes in Paper Targets." He insisted. "And my kids by the way, Conan Junior, are not going to be gun-toting jar heads. They're going to be scientists like me."
Sheppard strode toward his mate and grabbed his shoulders. "Well, my kid is going to learn to shoot and hunt and everything else he might need to survive, because even if he grows up to be a scientist, he might not be lucky enough to meet someone as friendly or as willing as me who might have to save his sorry ass over and over and over." Sheppard pushed his mate to the ground, being careful to assist his descent and provide a soft landing.
"Hey!" Rodney protested and struggled in vain, but Sheppard held his arms at his sides until McKay finally let out a frustrated huff and quit moving.
Sheppard stared into Rodney's wide eyes, noting the varying blues and specks of colour within and was surprised to note what pretty eyes Rodney had - not that he dare say so to McKay - and wondered why he had never noticed them before. Maybe his son would inherit those same flashing blues? Then he kissed him and began fumbling with Rodney's BDU's. "Get these off McKay. We sure as hell don't need any damn rubbers now."
Once he had spent himself in Rodney's deliciously tight ass and rolled off to let himself air-dry, his earlier conversation with Beckett came back to mind and he found himself irritated by his mental inability to enjoy the moment. Such was the life of a leader he supposed. Glancing to his right, he watched as Rodney stared up at the sky, quieter than he usually was post sex. "What's up?"
"What do you think is happening on Earth?"
Sheppard hated to speculate. That way laid more negative thoughts. "I don't know."
"We haven't heard from the Daedulus in months." Rodney said. "The SGC has probably forbidden it to contact Atlantis anymore. We're a pariah now."
Sheppard had to admit it was a possibility. "Yeah...maybe, but staying away is the smart move."
McKay might be the universe's most stubborn human, but even he was wise enough to see reality for what it was. "If we really are cut off, I mean if we have to go it alone from now on, with no help at all..." he swallowed, "then we don't have enough...babies to do that. Not yet."
Sheppard wasn't surprised McKay had figured it out too. It was numbers after all and numbers were right up his alley, and now with three uteruses inside him numbers were his thing in more ways than one. "No...no we don't. Beckett told me."
"The Athosians will be no help. They're willing to trade through the Gate, but that's all. They want nothing else to do with us."
"So we're going to have to do this by ourselves."
Sheppard nodded, feeling the scratching of the grass beneath his mussed up hair. "Yup."
McKay turned his head to look at the colonel. "If that's the way it's going to be – has to be – and we have to expand our numbers, rapidly, then...then the house is a good idea. We can cultivate more land, and have alternatives to living on the ocean...although," he said wistfully, "I like living in Atlantis."
Sheppard understood. "So do I, but some houses, maybe even some underground bunkers like the Genii had – are a good idea for emergencies or even, like Ronan and I planned, a weekend away."
"Sure." Rodney said. "Kolya would know about the underground bunkers and stuff."
"I guess." Sheppard was wary about having the man involved with any aspect of their future at all. But if it came down to numbers...it was hard to look a gift horse in the mouth. Plus it seemed as though Pegasus was intent on pushing them out of their comfortable equilibrium in Atlantis, and away from their own history back on Earth. The whole momentum of their lives seemed to have become one of force.
"But a nice ranch house, a big fenced yard, some cats..." Rodney was saying.
"The Pegasus galaxy doesn't have dogs."
"It doesn't have cats either."
Sheppard got to his feet and pulled on his clothes. "Come on, we'd better get back."
Rodney zipped up and followed. "Do you think Pegasus might have cat and dog equivalents, of the domestic variety?"
"I don't know Rodney."
It was during Rodney's third month when the discomfort he had been feeling, and trying to ignore, for several days turned into a steady, stabbing pain. It hit him fast and deep, so deep one evening as to make him gasp and then cry out as he doubled over. Ronan dropped his plate of food and leaped to his mate's aid, calling for Beckett's team despite's Rodney insisting he was "just fine".
Ronan ignored his mate's protests and called for help. "Have them meet me half way." He barked into the comm.-link "Something's wrong with Rodney."
Once in the infirmary, Beckett glanced anxiously at the scanner, and at his unconscious patient. "He's bleeding internally. I don't yet know the reason."
Sheppard was pacing a few feet away, his patience all but vanished. "Can you stop it?" The 'why' was way fucking far down his list.
Beckett studied his scanner for a few more seconds. "I need an amniotic sample." The doctor announced and then glanced to the men's worried faces. "I know you're worried but I'm confident his life is not in danger. However I need both of you to wait elsewhere for now. When I know more, I'll let you know." But when the two didn't move – "Getting in my way, by the by, will not help him."
When Sheppard showed no signs of leaving, Ronan tapped him on the arm and then turned and walked away without a word, Sheppard reluctantly following.
After not more than an hour, Beckett called them back. Seeing them glance to Rodney lying on the bed, his eyes closed, Beckett assured them. "He's asleep now, not unconscious, and in no immediate danger."
Sheppard nodded, but his yes never left the sleeping scientist. "So what's wrong with him?"
This time Beckett spoke directly to Sheppard. "I am sorry colonel, but it appears his body is rejecting the foetus."
Sheppard's gaze switched from Rodney's slack face to his slightly protruding belly. "You mean my-our child is dying?"
"I am afraid, John, that it is already dead. The pain Rodney experienced is his body adjusting to the work of, if you'll excuse the expression, ridding itself of the dead tissue. You see, it's breaking down what has now to it become a foreign invader and re-absorbing it. The discomfort was merely the uterus contracting to do the job, and more rapidly than it would otherwise." Beckett coughed slightly and continued with the uncomfortable diagnosis. "In a few days it will be as though he was never pregnant. This has happened before to one other womb-man but I was unable to report it to you due to privacy issues. You remember young Johnstone who was in here for a few days ten months ago?"
Sheppard nodded. And Beckett continued. "Well, the same thing happened to him. He's fine now, of course. Perfectly healthy."
"Will this..." Sheppard tried to speak passed a dry throat, "will this mean Rodney can't..."
Beckett understood. "Oh, no he'll still be able to conceive – absolutely, no doubt about it. Even if the uterus in question is damaged in some way, and I am not saying it is – the scans appear to indicate this is so – he still has two other viable and healthy uteruses."
Ronan huffed at Beckett's soothing noises. "If everything is normal why is he still bleeding?"
"A portion of the fluid –which is amniotic fluid laced with some blood - is being forced out of the uterus's cell walls due to the unusual level of intra-uterine pressure. This poses no danger to him and over time his body will be able to re-absorb them. As to why it happened to begin with..." Beckett checked the IV he had running into a port on the back of Rodney's right hand, "Is fatigue plain and simple. Rodney clearly was not taking care of himself the way he should have, not that the bugger ever listens to my warnings anyway."
"That's it?" Sheppard asked. "Fatigue?"
"Well, that and not eating properly, not drinking properly. Our dearly departed sisters could have gotten away with some self neglect – strong as oxen they were in hindsight – but not our womb-men and certainly not Rodney McKay, who consistently eats the wrong foods, skips regular rest periods and insists on working circles around men half his age. Non-pregnant men I might add."
"Idiot." Ronan muttered.
Beckett nodded. "Aye. I am afraid if Rodney wants to contribute to Atlantis's growing population, he's going to have to learn to follow his doctor's orders like he ought to instead of flouting them at every turn."
Sheppard bit his lip. He should not have taken Rodney out to the clearing, should not have insisted on his foolish little jaunt or the rough bit of sex right there on the grass. Maybe he triggered this thing? Rodney had been pale that day, hadn't he? And tired-looking. What the hell was he thinking running his pregnant mate all over the place? And what the hell was McKay doing working to all hours of the night? What the fuck were any of them doing, thinking they could pull this...this new breed of Pegasus humans thing off anyway? What the hell had he been doing thinking he would somehow manage being a colonel and a leader and a soldier and a husband and father too? This was completely insane. Christ! "So he's going to be all right?"
Beckett looked a bit surprised. "Oh yes, yes, perfectly fine. Once I've got his fluids built up again I'll release him, but I want him on strict bed rest for a few days and no argument either. And make him eat some bloody proper meals if you don't mind." Beckett then looked to the far less troubled Ronan for feed-back. "I trust you'll see to that?"
Ronan glanced at the very quiet Sheppard. "We'll chain him to a chair if we have to."
So I guess this is my second last chapter...