The sun was just setting over San Francisco Bay as John guided the jumper through Atlantis' roof iris. The sun's fading light painted the sky in riotous shades of pinks and purples. Atlantis gleamed gold in the last rays of the sun as it dipped below the horizon.
Once the jumper was clear of Atlantis, John turned it toward the shore. It wasn't a long flight, nor a particularly difficult one, but it demanded all of his attention to avoid any obstacles in his flight path: things like birds and helicopters and other planes. It was new to have to share the sky. He was used to flying in Pegasus where the only other thing in his sky was the Wraith and he could shoot at them if they got in his way.
He had already input the coordinates of his destination, a seemingly abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of the city. A lab had been set up there with anything that could be salvaged from the now-destroyed Antarctica weapons chair facility. John didn't understand why they didn't just bring the wreckage onto Atlantis. It would have made everyone's lives easier since they (IOA, NAD, USAF - John wasn't completely sure who *they* were) kept demanding that Rodney come to their lab to look at the wreckage. Like today.
Rodney grumbled about the wasted time, that he had better things to do, but John could see that he was pleased to be called upon as the world's foremost expert in Ancient technology. John liked seeing him all smug and self-important. They'd had a harrowing five years where Rodney was all that kept them alive most days. It was about time someone acknowledged how brilliant he truly was.
Still John would be happy to have Rodney back in the city. He knew it was just nerves, but his 'spidey' sense had begun to tingle when Woolsey had called with the latest request that Rodney go to investigate the Ancient tech. He'd been on edge all day with Rodney gone, beyond John's ability to protect him.
John adjusted his flight path as the facility came into sight. The HUD came up at his silent command. The display showed several life signs inside the facility. The display used Rodney's subcutaneous transmitter to pinpoint his exact location, he showed up as a little brighter than everyone else. John grinned at that. Rodney was one of the jumper's favorite people, too.
John's hand paused midway to his ear when he remembered that Rodney wasn't wearing his comm. It had been deemed a security risk. Rodney had just snorted when he heard that.
"As if having an invisible city parked in the middle of San Francisco Bay isn't a security risk."
But he'd left the comm behind in Atlantis on the table next to their bed.
The area around the facility was mostly deserted, but John couldn't take the chance that he'd be seen appearing out of thin air. He set the jumper down in a copse of trees a few hundred yards away. He locked up the jumper and headed in the direction of the facility. His steps sped up the closer he got to the building. He was close enough he could read the sign over the door – Acme Paper Company. He wondered if anyone was really fooled by the cover.
He was only a few steps away when the building blew up. The blast picked John up; throwing him back in the direction he had come. He hit the ground with a thud that drove the breath from his body. Unheeding of any injuries he might have sustained, he pushed himself back up. He ran toward the building, but it was already burning. The heat was so intense he couldn't get close, let alone inside the building.
"Rodney," he screamed, knowing it would do no good. He'd seen Rodney's life sign inside the building before it blew up. "Rodney," he whispered. He hadn't even said good bye before Rodney left the city that day. He'd gotten up early and went running with Ronon. Rodney had been gone when he got back.
There was another explosion from inside the building. Debris rained down around him. John saw it coming - a door was flying through the air towards him, but he didn't have time to do more than throw up an arm. The door slammed into him, pain rocketed through his body, followed closely by darkness.
"Rodney!" John sat straight up in bed, the alarm on the bedside table blaring. He leaned over, groaning, to hit the off button. It blinked at him – 5:30, over and over. He scrubbed a hand across his face, wiping away the tears. He'd had the dream so many times now; he thought he should be used to it by now. But no, he woke up crying every single time. The grief was fresh and new every time, like losing Rodney all over again. It was so unfair, they'd only had a few months together. John had viewed them as friends with benefits, but John knew now that he had loved Rodney, he could admit – at least to himself, now that Rodney is dead.
John refused to give into the grief though. It had been nearly fifteen years. He'd moved on with his life. He and Rodney had had something pretty great there for awhile, but Rodney was dead and John had a life to lead. Besides he was pretty sure Rodney would give him shit in the afterlife if John didn't find some way to go on with his life.
He forced himself out of the bed and headed for the shower. At least in there he could tell himself that the water on his face was from the shower.
By the time he was dressed and ready to go he had himself back together again, ready for his day. When John had left Atlantis, he'd come back to Earth not sure what he was going to do. He'd tried to resign his commission, but O'Neill had refused to take it. He said the SGC needed John and John needed the SGC. In the end John stayed. It was true, he did need the SGC, it was his lifeline to Pegasus and everyone that he still loved there. He coordinated gate teams, although he rarely went through the gate anymore.
He was scheduled to conduct training exercises that day for troops going to Pegasus. It was his job to make sure that they knew as much about the dangers of the Pegasus Galaxy as he could teach them. He needed to have his head on straight to do that. He didn't have time to mourn Rodney McKay, the love of his life, who'd had the audacity to die, before John could tell him.
John stood on the ramp, the gate open behind him. It cast a watery blue glow over the room. The personnel training with John that day watched the gate with awe on their face. John knew how they felt. He always remembered his first trip through the gate with Ford. It had been the trip of a lifetime.
"Alright," John told them – the bright, eager faces that looked at him with expectation in their eyes. "Be alert when you go through the gate. You never know what's going to be on the other side in the Pegasus Galaxy."
One of the marines raised a hand. "Don't you send a MALP through the gate first, sir?"
"We didn't in the beginning. We only had two when we left Earth that first time and lost the first one through a space gate. We tried to only go to places where we knew what was on the other side. If there was ever any doubt we could take a puddlejumper."
"Is it true that the puddlejumpers read your mind, sir?" Another voice called.
John always felt like the 'jumpers had more sentience than Rodney gave them credit for, but he stuck to what was known when he answered. "There is a mental component to flying the jumpers. You do have to know how to fly, but they're a sweet ride."
"When do we get to fly one?"
"Well, first you have to survive your training," John said with a smirk. He understood their desire to fly a real space ship. He missed it every day of his life.
He looked over the anxious faces looking back at him. They were all so young. They seemed to get younger every year while he kept getting older.
"Like I said, you never know what's going to be on the other side of the gate. Even if you think you know what's going to be on the other side, exercise extreme caution. We've gone through the gate to check out ruins and encountered Wraith. The Amish farmers turned out to have secret underground bunkers. Nothing is ever what it seems in the Pegasus Galaxy. If you can keep that in mind, you're ahead of the game. Okay, let's head out." John stood to the side and motioned them through the gate. He was going as an observer for the training that day so he went through last. Once he was through the gate he headed for higher ground, leaving the marines to take care of themselves.
It was always a kick to see the new guys go through the wormhole for the first time. To see them all approach the event horizon with varying levels of trepidation, but none of them were willing to show that they were nervous.
Once they were through the wormhole, they faced the first of the Pegasus-style hazards. Today it was Daniel Jackson and Teal'c playing the part of the Wraith. While most of the Wraith had been wiped out by a plague of unknown origin, there were still hive ships roaming the galaxy. They would show up out of nowhere, culling indiscriminately, wreaking fear and terror wherever they went.
As soon as the new recruits were through the gate and sorting themselves out, Teal'c and Jackson, dressed in long black coats and wielding Wraith stunners, walked out of the tree line and began firing on the marines.
Two of the new recruits fell to the Wraith fire while the rest of the newbies scrambled to protect their fallen comrades. One of marines pulled her weapon and leveled it on Daniel Jackson. She fired again and again. Jackson jerked as each simulated shot impacted, but he stayed on his feet. He advanced on the woman, smiling all the while.
It was creepy as all hell and John knew the scenario. He watched as the soldiers spread out, surrounding the 'Wraith.' More of them had their weapons out now, firing. Two of their number stayed with the wounded, protecting them. They pulled the wounded soldiers out of the line of fire, finding cover nearby.
The action was far enough away from the gate that John signaled for the next part of the exercise to begin.
A dart came through the gate, piloted by Cam Mitchell. Its distinctive whine caused the newbies to turn to see what was at their back and another went down at Teal'c's hand.
It amused the hell out of John that SG-1 had nothing better to do that day than to assist with John's training exercises. They didn't go out as a team much anymore. Cam Mitchell was O'Neill's right hand in much the way O'Neill had been for General Hammond, Teal'c worked tirelessly to reestablish the Jaffa nation and was rarely on Earth any more. As for Daniel Jackson, he was busier than ever with artifacts from two galaxies to study. They never saw Sam Carter in her role as captain of the George Hammond.
John suspected their participation in his training exercise had more to do with the date and their support of him than the fact that SGC's premiere team had nothing better to do than be players in his exercise. If he gave himself time to think about it, it made his throat tight with emotion, so he didn't let himself think about it.
The dart's appearance threw the marines into a panic. They hadn't thought that anything hostile would come through the still open gate from the SGC. John knew it was a little unfair to throw that curve at them. But Pegasus was never fair in his experience. Fifteen years hadn't changed that aspect at all.
Four members of the company were beamed up by the dart before the rest of the company remembered to avoid the white culling beam.
All but two of the marines had been taken by the 'Wraith' within an hour. But they put up a good fight. A half dozen of the marines surrounded Teal'c and would have taken him down if Cam hadn't done a fly over and scooped up most of them into the dart.
"Okay, Cam," John said at the end of the exercise. "You can land now."
Cam landed and beamed out his captives. He waved at John and headed back through the gate, followed by Teal'c and Daniel Jackson on foot.
The marines were all a little shocky. John took them back through the gate with instructions to shower and they would debrief the next day.
All in all it had been a good day.
John could have left for the day. O'Neill didn't keep a time clock. But it was the day of Atlantis' scheduled weekly dial in and he hadn't gotten to talk to Zelenka in a few weeks. He went to his office and pretended to read mission reports, wishing time would move a little faster. The time on his computer read 4:55 PM.
Rodney used to tell him that time was relative. If you enjoyed what you were doing, it was going to pass faster. Of course the opposite was also true.
"Colonel, you have a call from Atlantis. It's on your screen," the on duty tech called exactly on time.
"Thanks," John said. He flipped to the video screen on his computer. "Hey, Radek," he greeted the scientist he found waiting for him there.
Radek hadn't changed much over the years – his hair had grown wispier and his glasses were thicker, but his smile was just as welcome.
"Colonel," Radek smiled at John, seeming to smile with his body. "How are you?" His accent hadn't disappeared over the years either, if anything it was growing thicker.
John leaned back in his chair. As much as he didn't like thinking about Atlantis without him, it reassured him to know how many of the people he trusted were still there. "I'm fine, getting old. My knees don't like Colorado Springs in the winter."
"Atlantis is in very temperate zone – the temperature never falls below 50 of your degrees Fahrenheit or goes above 85. You would like it very much." Radek was always trying to convince him to come back.
"Let me think about it, Radek, I'll get back with you."
"As you say, Colonel." Radek's smile was knowing. John wasn't going to come back to Atlantis to live, but he had to try.
"How is Lorne and the kids?" John asked. He could see Radek's office wall behind the scientist. He'd been seeing that wall for so many years he could always spot the new photos of Radek's family. There were pictures of Lorne and Radek surrounded by their three sons – the latest one showed the boys beginning to tower over their fathers. Both Lorne and Radek beamed with pride. There was one of John and Rodney that always made John's heart ache, but he was glad to see it there. Glad that there was someone else who remembered Rodney with as much love as he did.
"They are well. The boys, they are so tall, I do not know where it comes from."
"But I have a surprise to tell you." Radek didn't wait for John to answer. He stood revealing his surprise.
John's mouth dropped open. "You're..."
Radek grinned, pleased that he'd managed to pull off his surprise. "Yes, I am pregnant." He smoothed a hand down the rounded swell of his belly.
John stared. "I thought that..."
Radek waved a hand. "Yes, we thought also that only one partner could carry the children. And somehow the machine would choose which partner was better suited to carry the children. But Lorne told me that he loves our children but if I wished to have any more I had to carry them myself."
"So," John realized his mouth was hanging open; he shut it with a click of his teeth.
"Yes, I finally figured out machine so that I could carry children. I am hoping for a girl." Radek looked hopelessly pleased with himself. John felt a little pain that he would never get to experience this for himself.
"That's great, Dr. Z," John was happy for Radek and Lorne. They deserved whatever happiness they could get. "It's too bad we can't tell anyone about that thing. There are so many couples here on Earth who would use a machine like that."
"I know, perhaps someday soon SGC and Atlantis will be declassified."
John nodded. "Maybe someday."
There was a voice in the background John didn't recognize. Radek glanced away from the screen then back at John. "Next month, it is Torren's birthday. He is asking if you will be coming for celebration?"
Torren was the first child born to Atlantis in 10,000 years. The celebration of his birthday was always a big event. John always made it a point to be there even though it was hard to attend knowing who was missing. "I'll be there, wouldn't miss it," he promised. "Any clue what to get him?"
Radek chuckled, "You know whatever you bring will be most cherished gift of all. He often takes out surfboard that you brought him last year. He has become very good."
John had given him a few basic lessons on using the board before returning to Earth after Torren's last birthday. He grinned, imaging Torren on the waves, using the board. He nodded. "Hard act to follow, but I'll think of something. What about you? What are you and Lorne giving him?"
Radek bounced in his seat, "We have ordered remote-controlled helicopter. He will love it, I think."
"He will," John agreed readily. He leaned back, picking up the model helicopter sitting on the corner of his desk, twirling the rotor. "How is everyone there?"
"Did you hear that Teyla is now President of Coalition?"
John nodded. She wrote to him often over the years keeping him up-to-date with all the happening in the Pegasus Galaxy. She'd never asked him to come back, but the invitation was always implicit in her messages.
Teyla was the best person for the job of President of the Coalition. She had always felt like she was deserting her people by joining the Lanteans. Now she was in a position where she would protect all the people of Pegasus. He felt better knowing that she was there. He chuckled at the fact that Ronon was her Vice-President.
They talked for a little while longer, but the power to keep the gate open was precious; they could only talk until the SGC finished up their business with Atlantis. John signed off, promising to be there for Torren's birthday.
As much as he enjoyed talking with Zelenka, on this day it only highlighted Rodney's absence. He decided it was time to pack it up for the day. The reports he'd left unread would still be there tomorrow. General O'Neill didn't get on his shit about the paperwork unless it was really late (months, instead of just days or weeks). The days when he worked late in the night finishing his paperwork certainly made him appreciate Lorne all the more.
"Hey," Cam stuck his head in John's office. "You want to go out for a beer tonight?"
John shook his head, avoiding Cam's eyes, straightening the models on his desk as if it were the most important thing he had to do.
"Come on, man." Instead of getting John's unspoken message and leaving, Cam came in and sat, stretching out. "It's been... how long... 10 years?"
"Fifteen," John corrected, destroying any chance he might have had of pretending that he didn't know what Cam was talking about.
"Fifteen," Cam nodded. "Do you really think he would want you to do this every year?"
John met Cam's eyes levelly. "I don't know what he would have wanted, Cam, he's dead." John's voice might have broken on the last word, but he continued, ignoring the waver, "So he's lost any right he might have had to tell me what to do."
Cam leaned forward, his smile hopeful, "Come with me. They're ready to try out the new experimental plane, they're integrating aspects of the Ancient tech with the F302s. Test flight's this afternoon," he wheedled. "I'm sure they'd rather have you with your magic gene in the cockpit."
John pushed himself away from his desk, suddenly angry, "I don't want to fly planes today, okay?" he shouted. "I want to mourn my friend, okay? I just want one goddamn day to be sorry I never told him I loved him while I still had the chance. Okay?"
"Okay," Cam said, his voice gentle. "You've never said that before. You never told him you loved him?"
John pinched his nose, feeling the tears building. He would not cry in front of damn Cameron Mitchell.
John stopped for dinner on his way home at a little Italian place he and Rodney used to frequent whenever they were in Colorado Springs. The food was good, the service was always outstanding and the staff was always glad to see him. He found a parking place on the street about a block away from the restaurant. Winter was nearly done, but, while the days had been warmer, it was getting cold as evening set in. When he got out of his SUV, John shivered in the chill breeze. He zipped up his jacket and set off briskly down the sidewalk. It had been overcast all day and John could feel an occasional rain drop hit his face as he walked.
Because of the threat of rain, there weren't a lot of people out, so John noticed her right away. She was standing across the street from the restaurant he was headed for. She was dressed completely inappropriately for a spring day in Colorado Springs in a light blue t-shirt with jeans and flip flops. He shook his head ruefully. He'd kind of thought he'd gotten over surprise at the vagaries of how different people could dress in Pegasus. But, no, he wanted to give her his jacket.
Maybe it was because she had blue eyes the color of Atlantis' sky on a cloudless day, but he kept an eye on her as he walked. So, he saw when she stumbled into a man passing her on the sidewalk. She wasn't a very good pick pocket, he saw every move as her hand went into the man's pocket and came back out with his wallet. So, did the man. He grabbed her arm as she tried to run, jerking her back. John took off at a run.
He arrived in time to hear the man threatening the girl.
"You chose the wrong man to rob, girly," he hissed. He had the young girl pulled up into him.
"Let me go." She struggled against him, but he was too strong for her to pull away. The guy had a little grin on his face enjoying her struggles.
Before John could get there to intervene, the girl stomped on the man's foot, at the same time she jabbed him in the ribs with an elbow. John intercepted her fist before she could hit him in the face.
"Hey, Sis," he said, pulling her away from the guy. He plucked the wallet from her fingers. "I saw you pick up this guy's wallet. Here let me help you give it back to him."
The girl glared at him, but didn't interfere when he handed the wallet back to the guy. The guy was trying to look like he wasn't hurt by her jab, but he held his elbow tucked into his rib. John suppressed a grin.
"You should keep your *sister* on a leash," the man growled, he grabbed his wallet from John. "She's dangerous. I'm thinking of pressing charges."
John shrugged casually, "You do want you want," he said nonchalantly. He kept a hold on the girl even though she was tugging against his hold; her eyes were narrowed on the man. "But I'll testify that I saw you drop the wallet. She was only picking it up to give it back to you."
The man looked John up and down, John was in BDUs from the exercise that day. Even at 50 his hair still stuck up all over the place, but otherwise he looked like any of the ubiquitous military to be seen around Colorado Springs, not someone to be messed with.
The man frowned, but he backed up, his hands help up in surrender. "I can tell where this is going. You should keep your *sister* on a leash." The look he gave the two of them made John feel dirty. "Next time someone might not go as easy on her as I did." He turned on his heel and walked away.
"Why did you stop me?" the girl growled at John. "I didn't need you to rescue me." She jerked her arm away. She bent down and picked up a battered back pack that was lying at her feet. It was stuffed to overflowing.
"I could see that," he answered levelly. "But if I didn't stop him, he would have had you arrested and you would have ended up in juvie. Did you want that, Sis?" He raised an eyebrow waiting for her response.
She mulled it over for a minute. Finally she shrugged. "Okay, maybe I didn't want that," she muttered sullenly.
The clouds that had been threatening all day began to spit on them, not snow exactly, but little pellets of ice fell around them. The girl shivered.
John unzipped his jacket, draping it over her shoulders. "John Sheppard," he introduced himself.
She didn't protest, she just stuck her arms into the sleeves. She was immediately buried in his jacket. "Keyla," she told him with ill grace. He didn't comment on the fact that she didn't provide her last name.
"Hungry?" he asked.
She eyed him suspiciously, "Really?"
"Really." He took her arm and steered her toward the restaurant he'd been heading for.
If the staff was surprised to see him with someone, they didn't say anything. They took John's jacket from Keyla and hung it up, then seated the two of them near the fireplace in the center of the place. Keyla sat with a happy sigh, she wriggled around in her seat so that her feet were as close to the fire as she could get.
"So," John said after they had ordered, "those were some nice moves you used on that guy."
"Creep," Keyla declared.
"You were trying to rob him," John pointed out.
"Oh," she glanced up at him, surprised. "You saw that?" She picked at the tablecloth with a fingernail.
"Yes, I saw that. And you're never going to do it again, are you?" Gah, John could remember his father saying that to him once. He'd sworn never to sound like his father. Too late to take it back now.
She shrugged. "I think I need more practice before I try again."
"You're never going to do it again, are you?" John insisted.
She scowled at him. There was a silent contest of wills. But John had been in charge of marines for too long to be cowed by a teenage girl.
"Fine," she rolled her eyes at him. "I'll never do it again." John had only known Keyla for all of 10 minutes, but he believed her.
"So," he began again, "about those moves."
She shrugged like it was no big thing. "I've been taking Tae Kwon Do since I was a kid. I'm a black belt."
He lifted an eyebrow skeptically.
Hurt blazed in her eyes. Her eyes were so blue. He knew it was just because Rodney had been on his mind all day, but she reminded him of Rodney so much. It made his heart hurt a little just seeing her sitting across from him.
"I can prove it," she asserted with a stubborn tilt of her chin.
He smiled at her and waved his hand. "Oh, I believe you."
"My dad said I need to be able to take care of myself."
"So you can pickpocket strangers and have dinner with men you don't even know?"
She opened her mouth to respond, then shut it again. She shrugged again.
"Is this your first time running away?" he asked, keeping his voice gentle. He didn't think she would respond well to an interrogation. He knew he never had.
"What makes you think I'm a runaway?" she challenged him.
He didn't answer, he just lifted a brow. He could see her formulate a lie, and just as quickly discard it.
"I bet your parents are worried about you." Privately John knew he would be losing his shit if this was his daughter and he knew she was walking around alone. The world wasn't a particularly safe place. Especially not for pretty brunette teenagers with eyes the color of the sky.
Her mouth formed into a straight line that tilted down on one side. She stared in the direction of the fireplace, picking at the edge of the menu. "It's just my dad, I don't have a mom."
"I'm sorry," John said, meaning it. His mom had died when he pretty young.
She looked back at him then, a challenge in her eyes that John didn't understand. "My dad said she died when I was pretty young, I don't remember her at all."
John swallowed, not knowing how to answer. This was never what he was good at. He had a sudden wish that Teyla was there to mediate. But she wasn't, so he was going to have to manage on his own. He picked up the menu, studying it idly, watching the girl across from him.
"So, how do you feel about pizza? They have pretty good pizza here."
"Really?" She perked up at that, her mood going from sullen to bright in seconds. "My dad never lets me have pizza."
John hid a smile behind his menu.
The waitress appeared then with water and they spent the next few minutes wrangling over their order.
"So, your dad's pretty strict?" John asked as the waitress left to turn in their order – large pizza with extra cheese and pepperoni, black olives and onions thrown in to make sure they got their vegetables.
"He says that nutrition is important. We always have to have veggies. He doesn't think that I know about the stash of junk food that he keeps in a box under his bed."
She was smart; John could see that, scary smart. He let her talk while they waited for their pizza. She tried to put up a tough-kid persona, but it was just that - a persona.
When the pizza arrived there was quiet for a while as the pie was quickly devoured.
"So," John said, trying desperately to figure out how the hell you talked to a teenager. "Who's your favorite super hero? Batman or Superman?"
She snorted, a slice of pizza half way to her mouth. "Really? Wonder Woman of course. Not only is she a kick ass Amazon, but she has her own invisible plane."
John nodded slowly. "That's pretty cool. You like to fly?"
For the first time Keyla looked like a shy teenager. She leaned into him and dropped her voice, "Don't tell my dad, okay? He says it's dangerous, so I've never actually gotten to fly." She shrugged. "But I'm going to someday. I want to take lessons and learn how to fly." She grinned at John wickedly. "I have a skateboard that he doesn't know about. He would completely freak if he knew about that."
"So, is that what this is about?" John asked. "Freaking out your dad?"
She huffed. "No... I don't know. I was mad, you know." John didn't speak, letting her tell her story at her own speed. "We move a lot. I mean a lot. And this time when he told me to pack, it just made me so mad. I was in school for the first time and I had friends and he wanted us to move. Again. I decided that I'd had enough. I threw my stuff into my backpack and left through my bedroom window." She fiddled with the straw in her drink. She looked close to tears. "You're probably right. He's probably really worried about me." She hesitated chewing on her lip. "I know you don't know me, and you don't have any reason to help, but maybe..." she took a quick drink of her soda. "I don't have any money or anywhere to stay tonight. Maybe I could sleep on your couch and we could call my dad in the morning?"
John was so glad he had run into this girl. If anyone else had encountered her on the street, she could be a sad headline in the newspaper tomorrow.
John took out his wallet and threw some money onto the table to cover their bill. "I should probably take you to the police..."
Keyla turned white. She stood, grabbing up the pack she'd dropped onto the floor at her feet. "Thank you for dinner, Mr. Sheppard, I'm sorry to bother you..."
People were looking at them.
"But I won't. Sit down before someone here calls the cops." He didn't grab her, he had a feeling if he tried she'd be gone like a shot and who knew what she would encounter on the streets all alone. He found that he couldn't stand that thought. Slowly she looked at him, chewing on her lip. She nodded and sat. Around them, people turned back to their dinners, conversation picked up and things slowly returned to normal.
"You won't call the police?" The tears welled up in her eyes.
"No, not yet."
"Not ever," she hissed. "We can't trust them. My dad says you can't trust the police."
John began to get a prickle of his spidey sense. Something was up and Keyla was involved in it. It could be nothing more than a parent paranoid about the authorities, but he thought there was more to it than that.
"Okay," he said slowly, his mind racing as he tried to get a plan into place. "You can spend one night on my couch, and we call your dad first thing in the morning."
She gave no warning before she was up and out of the restaurant. He had to hustle to catch up with her.
It was cold enough that the rain had turned to snow. The day had been a warm one and the snow wasn't sticking yet, but it was forming a cold, slushy mess on the streets. He found Keyla outside the restaurant staring at the snow with affront. Like it was snowing to personally ruin her plans. She half turned when she heard John behind her.
"I'll go home with you, but don't try anything or I'll have to hurt you."
John held up his hands.
"I can do it," she insisted.
"I believe you," John said. "One of the most dangerous people I know is a woman about your size. My car is this way." He turned and started walking in the direction of his SUV without looking to see if she was following. He walked quickly. It was cold out and he'd given Keyla his jacket so he was anxious to get to the car.
He hadn't gone far when he heard her footsteps beside him.
"Wait up," she fell into step beside him. "Is it always this cold?"
He shrugged. "It's Colorado Springs, what you going to do? You used to warmer weather?"
She looked at him askance. "You're trying to get me to tell you where I'm from?"
John grinned at her, "Just making conversation." He dug out his keys and clicked the button that would open the SUV.
He started the car and cranked the heat up to high. Keyla gave a little sigh and held her hands out to the warm air coming out of the vent. He buckled his seat belt and waited while Keyla buckled hers. He could use the auto pilot, but he always preferred to drive for himself. He just didn't trust a car that drove itself, no matter how many safety tests had been conducted to show that the auto pilot was safe.
It was fully dark out and the snow was getting thicker. John had to give his full attention to his driving. John lived on the outskirts of the city. He'd lived in Atlantis so long that being in the city proper made him feel hemmed in with the mass of humanity in every corner. He'd moved to a little house on the outskirts of the city shortly after coming back to Earth permanently. It was a longer drive at the end of the day, but it was worth it for the peace and the space it afforded him.
They drove in silence for a long while. John didn't press Keyla for details of why she'd run away. He thought that if she wanted to tell him she would. John had been stubborn as a teenager. He knew that if she didn't want to talk, she wouldn't. It was okay, he could be stubborn, too, and he didn't mind silence.
"What do you do, Mr. Sheppard?" Keyla asked finally.
John suppressed a smile of triumph. "John please," he said. "Mr. Sheppard was my father." John kept his eyes on the road. The snow made visibility poor and the road slick; it demanded all of his attention. "I'm in the Air Force. Full Bird Colonel." He told her with some pride. She wouldn't understand what it meant to him, but John never missed a chance to tell anyone that asked.
"That sounds cool. What do you do in the Air Force?"
John wanted to tell her about Atlantis, about how amazing it was with its spires and stained glass, how beautiful it was to stand on the balcony in the morning at sun rise and see the sun dancing on the water. He wanted to tell her about the Athosians and Teyla. He wanted to tell her about Ronon and how he had lost his home and everything he loved and kept on fighting against the Wraith. Most of all he wanted to tell her about Rodney and how Rodney made Atlantis live. She was the first person he'd ever wanted to tell about Atlantis.
"I used to fly helicopters," he said instead.
"Really? What kind?" She nearly bounced in her seat with enthusiasm.
"Uhm, Apache, Blackhawk, Cobra, Osprey..."
"Could you take me for a ride in one?"
"Well, I don't fly helicopters anymore. I work in Cheyenne Mountain, in the Deep Space Telemetry project."
She cocked her head regarding him curiously for a moment. "You know just because I'm young doesn't mean I'm stupid. I bet you work with aliens and stuff."
John barked out a laugh, unable to hold it in. "The aliens are actually classified. If I told you about them, I'd have to kill you."
She did give a bounce in her seat at that. "I knew it." She took a quick breath and leaned into him, nearly whispering, "Are there space ships?"
"Classified," John threw her a small smirk. "But if there were space ships, I've definitely flown them."
"Will you show me a space ship?"
"Keyla," John began.
"I know." She sat back with a sad sigh. "Classified."
"So, so classified. So. Colorado Springs?"
There was quiet for so long John thought she wasn't going to answer.
"The ticket to Colorado Springs was the farthest place I could go with the money I had." She turned to watch the snow falling outside her window.
John couldn't figure out a tactful way to ask what he needed to know, so he just asked it. "Did your father hurt you?"
"What?" Keyla turned to him, astonished, her eyes wide. "No! He loves me, he'd never hurt me."
"But you ran away," John pointed out gently.
"He made me so mad when he told me we had to move again. Like it didn't count what I wanted. So I left." John could sympathize with the teenager. He was like that himself at that age. He wanted a say in what went on in his life. It made him crazy every time his father made a decision for his life without consulting him. It was part of what drove him to the Air Force. It wasn't the only thing, but it was part of it.
John turned onto his street. His neighborhood was quiet with only three other houses on the street. He knew his neighbors and he knew the people that visited them. There were at least four cars on the street that he didn't recognize. Alarm bells began to ring inside John's head. He pulled over in front of a neighbor's house. He left the SUV running, but he put it in gear and turned off the lights. The snow came down softly, giving everything a soft edge.
John turned to Keyla. "What did you say your dad does?"
She looked confused with the abrupt change of conversation. "Uhm... I don't know." She chewed on her lip as she thought. "I mean, he's never really told me. He works at home though; we always have an office in the house wherever we are. Something with computers? What?" She was picking up on his tension.
"I don't know. Something doesn't feel right."
"Now you sound like my dad. What's wrong?"
"There's nothing I can pinpoint. It just doesn't feel right."
John's ring tone sounded, "And I think it's going to be a long, long time till touchdown brings me round, I've yet to find. I'm not the man they think I am at all. Oh, no, no, no. I'm the Rocket man." Rodney had set that ring tone, and John had never had the heart to change it. Even when he changed his phone with each new upgrade, he'd kept the ring tone for texts. He pulled out his phone to read the text.
Motel 6, Room 12. Make sure you're not followed. Bring my daughter. There was nothing else.
John turned the phone so Keyla could read the screen. She groaned.
"He followed me. I can't believe he followed me. I'm not going." She reached for the door, but John had locked it.
"Okay, but we're still going to talk to your father." John put the SUV in gear and did a U turn, going back the way they had come. "I know you're mad at him, Keyla, but something is going on here. I think we need to talk to him."
She crossed her arms and glared at John. "You can make me go, but you can't make me talk to him."
"Fine. I'll do the talking. But we're going to see him." John punched a button on the dashboard and a heads up display overlaid the windshield.
"That's so cool!" Keyla exclaimed. She leaned forward absorbed in the HUD. "Are you like Tony Stark or something?"
"Or something." It didn't look like his SUV had been bugged, but John couldn't tell for sure. He felt a longing for Rodney sweep over him.
"So, what does this tell us? If someone's put a tracking device on our car?" Keyla seemed to know how to use the HUD instinctively. When she swept it aside with her hand and pulled up another display, John turned to stare at her.
"You have the gene?"
"What? Yeah, the ATA gene. I have that. I never knew what that was before, but this is so cool. It's like your car is reading my mind." The display lit up with red. John had to set aside the mystery of how Keyla knew about the ATA gene and concentrate on the current situation.
"What does the red mean?" he asked.
"That's the tech around us. These guys," she pointed to the dots that John thought were the strange vehicles parked around his house, "are using different types of tech, like listening devices and radios to communicate with one another."
"Where did you learn about this kind of stuff?" John did his best to drive slowly and carefully. He didn't want to attract attention to them before they'd made good their escape. The snow helped. It obscured everything around them, which meant it would obscure them, too.
"My dad taught me. I've been homeschooled up until last year when I went to high school. I thought everyone learned about hacking and technology and weapons. I was really surprised when I found out that the hardest thing you learned in high school was about the mean girls."
"And you wanted to go back to that?" John gave a sigh of relief when his neighborhood disappeared in his rearview mirror and they weren't being followed.
"I had friends for the first time in my life and my dad didn't care."
"I think he cared a lot, I just don't think he had a choice."
"What do you mean?"
"I don't want to make any guesses until I've had a chance to meet your dad. What can you tell me about him?" He made the HUD disappear with a thought. Keyla flopped back in her seat now that her new toy was gone.
"I don't know. He's a genius. He tells me that all the time. He makes me eat my vegetables and brush my teeth. He taught me how to read." She shrugged. "He's my dad."
The hotel wasn't far. John pulled in, circling the building to find room 12. All of the rooms had an entrance to the outside. Room 12 was half way back. It had a good sightline of the street. It also had a good view of the street behind the motel. You would be able to see anyone well before they got to the room.
John backed into the space in front of room 12. He turned off the car.
"Alright, let's do this." John got out of the SUV. Keyla didn't put up a fuss, she got out of the SUV, too, slamming her door. She marched to room 12 and knocked. John followed closely. His curiosity had kicked into overdrive.
The door opened and Keyla pushed her way in, already shouting.
"I can't even believe it, you followed me."
"You ran away, of course I followed you," her father shouted right back. He turned back to John and their eyes met.
John felt as if all the air had left him. He was hot and then cold. He didn't know whether to get in his car and leave now that Keyla was safely delivered to her father or if he should go in and deck the guy.
Rodney hadn't changed much, his hair had receded a little more, but otherwise his shoulders were still wide, his eyes were still blue and when he gazed at John his mouth slanted down on one side, like he was sorry that he'd been found out.
"John," Rodney said softly. "Please. Come in. We need to talk." He looked nervously around John, glancing at the street.
John stood his ground and stared.
Rodney huffed. "Hit me or come in, whatever. It's cold out here."
John let out a relieved sigh. "That's better. There for a minute I was afraid you were a replicator."
"Would you shut the door? I'm about to become a popsicle in here," Keyla called.
Rodney rolled his eyes. He grabbed John's arm and pulled him into the room, shutting the door with a final look outside.
It hit John then. "You're alive? How are you alive? It's been what? Fifteen years and you couldn't call, send a card, write an email? Something to let us know you were alive?" John really didn't know if he should hit Rodney or kiss him.
Rodney took a deep breath. "John, I know you have questions. But we don't have time right now. You've got to trust me when I tell you that we've got to get out of here."
"See what I mean?" Keyla jeered. She'd fallen into a chair, arranged in an unhappy jumble of elbows and knees. "Well, I'm not going." She declared. She jerked her chin up into a stubborn tilt. "I'm going to stay here and live with John."
John wondered if he'd fallen during the training mission and hit his head. Maybe this was all a hallucination. He was really in the infirmary. He always had the strangest dreams when he was on morphine.
Rodney growled. "We don't have time for this. Long story short, the Trust blew up that building to get me. They kept me captive for a while, but I finally managed to escape with Keyla and we've been on the run ever since. They'd just caught up with us again when Keyla decided to pull her disappearing Houdini act and ended up here. We'll be talking about that later, young lady," he threw a scowl in her direction. Keyla stuck her tongue out at him. Rodney huffed and continued, "Anyway, she left a trail that a blind man could follow, let alone the Trust and they're not going to be too far behind us. We have to go now. And I'm afraid you're in it now, too, you've got to come with us."
John scrubbed a hand through his hair. "Do you think that after finding you again after all this time, I'm letting you out of my sight until you answer at least a million questions?" He scowled at Rodney.
Rodney smirked at him. "I was hoping you would say that. Now the first thing we need to do is lose your vehicle. The Trust will know it and be on the lookout for it."
John shook his head. "No, we're taking my car, at least for now."
Rodney bounced on his toes. "You've got a plan?"
"The beginnings of one. You ready? Let's get out of here and you can answer questions while we drive."
"Wait! What? No." Keyla stood and stamped a foot. "I didn't come all this way just to get pulled into the crazy again."
Rodney turned to her. "You can come with us or stay here." He pulled out his wallet. "I'll give you some money. You'll be okay for a while."
"What?" Keyla gave a little wail. "You're not going to leave me behind?" Her voice was small and broken.
Rodney went to her and put his arm around her. He pulled her in and rested his head on hers in an Athosian embrace. "Brat. I wouldn't leave you behind," he whispered. "You got your emergency backpack?"
Kayla nudged the pack she'd been lugging with her wherever she went.
"Good girl." Rodney hugged her and all seemed to be happy again in the McKay world.
John felt a tug at his heart. Rodney had a daughter and a life with her that didn't involve John. He was pretty sure Rodney hadn't gone with the Trust willingly, thus his 'death.' But what had happened in those intervening 15 years? John's life had gone on. So, it seemed, had Rodney's.
Rodney dropped one last kiss onto Keyla's nose. He turned to John.
The sound of an alarm filled the room.
"Oh, shit," Rodney stared at John, "we took too long."
"The Trust?" John asked. "I have a weapon in the car."
"No time. The sensor picks up the frequency they use to transmit messages on, but they have to be pretty close. I let myself get distracted with you and now they're right outside or damn close to it."
"Okay, we need to get to my SUV then."
Rodney nodded, briskly packing up the few items he had in the room into a back pack. He took a gun out of the pack and handed it to John.
"You should probably be in charge of this."
John took the weapon, checked the chamber. "Do you have more ammo?"
Rodney pulled out a box from his pack, handing it to John. It rattled. When John looked inside there were only two clips. John shoved them into his pocket and threw the box aside.
"Okay," he handed his keys to Rodney. "You two get to the car, I'll cover you."
Keyla's eyes were big, watching the two of them.
"You mean, there really are bad guys?" Her voice was a bare whisper.
"Yes, and we'll talk about this later," Rodney pulled her close and hugged her. "Don't worry. John and I escaped from worse situations than this all the time."
Keyla looked at John. His heart caught at seeing Rodney and Keyla both staring at him with trust in their eyes.
He shrugged, did his best to sound casual. "This is nothing." He swallowed. "You two ready?"
They both nodded. John turned the lights out. He went to the window and pulled the curtain back just enough that he could see out.
The world was swirling with white. He couldn't see if there was anyone out there waiting for them. Which meant that anyone out there would also have their vision obscured by the snow, too. At least that's what John told himself.
He pointed at the door and then he pointed at Keyla and Rodney. He held up three fingers. Rodney nodded. John moved to the door. He took a firm grip on his weapon and counted down, folding down one finger at a time. At three he jerked the door open and went out, rolling in the snow. A shot rang out and hit the door frame, throwing out a shower of splinters. John rose and fired in the direction the shot had come from. He could see Rodney and Keyla leave the room and head toward the car. They stayed low, moving fast.
Another shot rang out.
John whirled toward the shot and fired. A body hurtled through the snow, tackling John. They went down in a tangle of arms and legs. The gun skittered away from John, lost. John threw an elbow back, catching his assailant in the face. He bucked back, throwing off the man on his back. He scrambled up just as the man's fist drove into his stomach. John doubled over gasping. They didn't have time for this. There were more bad guys out in the cover of the snow. They needed to be gone now.
Before John could move, his assailant put his gun to John's head. John swept out with a foot, tumbling the man to the ground. He fell on his back, hitting the pavement hard. The gun lay next to his body.
John scooped the gun up and threw himself into the SUV. Rodney gunned the car and pulled out onto the street.
"You always did know how to show me a good time." John looked over at Rodney and grinned.
"It was too easy." Rodney observed. He drove carefully, keeping an eye on the rear view mirror.
John nodded. "Yeah," he scrubbed a hand through his hair. "What's next?"
"Those were real bad guys?" A small voice from the back seat asked, there was a hint of hysteria in Keyla's voice.
"I'm sorry, honey, I'd hoped you'd never find out about them," Rodney looked into the rear view mirror to see his daughter.
She was huddled into her seat, shivering.
"Uhm, Rodney, why don't you let me take over driving?" John felt totally out of his element dealing with an hysterical teenage girl
They pulled over so Rodney could climb into the back seat with Keyla. Time wasn't on their side, but John stopped anyway to pull the emergency blanket out of the back of the SUV. He handed it back to Rodney when he got into the driver's seat.
"You really are a boy scout aren't you?" As Rodney took the blanket their fingers brushed. Rodney squeezed his fingers, then crawled into the back seat. He shook out the blanket and draped it over his daughter. She huddled in closer to her father.
"They were shooting at us," there was a quaver in her voice.
John pulled back out into the traffic. He kept an eagle eye on the rear view mirror as much to watch Rodney and Keyla as to watch for pursuit.
Rodney smoothed her hair away from her face. "I'm so sorry you had to experience that. I've always tried to keep you safe."
"And it's all my fault," Keyla burrowed into Rodney's embrace. "If I had listened to you, this never would have happened."
Rodney stroked her hair. It made John's heart ache to see the two of them together. "Yeah, I have to tell you that I'm pretty mad at you for running away. I was so worried about you. And I intend to yell you about that once we're all safe again, so don't think you're getting out of that. But this is not your fault. None of this is your fault. Don't ever think that."
"But they found us because I ran away," Keyla insisted, stubbornly sticking to her point. John had to grin despite the grim circumstances; it was such a Rodney trait.
"Okay, it's all your fault. Feel better now?"
John was pretty sure they weren't being followed, which was a good thing; because it was impossible to keep watch the way he should be. The drama in his back seat was more compelling.
Keyla sniffled, "I was just trying to help."
"By running away?"
She nodded earnestly. "You've been telling me stories about John Sheppard since I was a baby. I just thought if I could find him, I'd get him to bring me home and then you could be, I don't know... happy again?"
"What?" Rodney pulled the blanket tighter around her. "I'm happy. How could I not be happy? I have you. You know I love you, don't you?"
"I know you love me," she gazed up at him earnestly. "But you've always been a little sad. I just want you to be happy."
Rodney hugged her close. "I am very happy right now." Rodney's eyes met John's in the mirror.
"Good." She snuggled into his arms and shut her eyes. Rodney smiled at John.
"So, Rodney," John maneuvered them onto the highway. The snow was still falling, picking up in intensity. They passed a snow plow. It threw slush up on them as they passed it. There weren't many other cars on the road besides theirs. "You look pretty good for a dead guy."
"It wasn't my fault," Rodney protested. "The Trust engineered that bombing so they could take me. They thought I was just going to roll over and do their bidding."
John snorted. "They didn't know you very well."
"Damn right," Rodney declared. "They had a lot of Ancient tech they hoped was weapons that they wanted me to work on. And they didn't want the IOA looking over their shoulder.
"Were they weapons?"
"Some of the things they had made the stuff we found in Atlantis look like tinker toys. There was no way that I was going to make any of those things work for them. I was trying to figure out how to make their whole facility go up in flames. I knew you thought I was dead, no one was coming for me."
"Rodney, I am so sorry."
Rodney waved a hand, "I knew you'd be taking the place apart brick by brick if you knew I was there." It warmed John's heart to hear Rodney's faith in him. But was that faith still there? John was determined to get Rodney and Keyla to freedom, but he wasn't sure what would happen then. He and Rodney had definitely had something together once, but was it still there? John knew it was for him, but that had been 15 years ago. It was apparent things had changed a lot for Rodney in that time.
"But then I found out I was pregnant."
John swallowed. He and Rodney had talked sometimes about a family. Or mostly Rodney had talked about a family, whispering in John's ear late at night when he thought John was asleep. John had wanted that, too, the life Rodney talked about with a few kids and a cat and a house on the mainland where they could escape from the crazy that was life on Atlantis. But then that building had blown up and taken John's dream with it.
"Things changed for me." Rodney looked down at the teenager in his arms. She was sleeping, her head resting on his chest. "I couldn't blow the place up because what if I couldn't get out in time? What if I got myself killed before she was born? I just couldn't." Their eyes met in the mirror. John could see the grief in Rodney's eyes, the terrible fear that he must have felt then.
"Hey, Rodney, of course you couldn't do anything that might have hurt her." John had to turn his attention back to the road. The snow was getting thick enough that it was demanding all of his attention. "That must have been weird. Being pregnant?"
Rodney snorted. "You have no idea. They didn't know what to do with me. The Trust I mean. They couldn't just call in an Ob/Gyn for a house call. They kind of winged it. Fortunately for me they weren't really interested in the whole scientific aspect of a man being pregnant. For a while I didn't let them know because I was afraid they would want to study it, study me, and I wasn't going to let them use our child like that," Rodney nearly growled at the thought.
"I? She...?" John didn't even know what he wanted to say. John stared at Keyla in the mirror. He had a daughter.
Rodney grinned at him crookedly. "Yeah, she's at least half Sheppard. Trust me; there were days when I was certain that it was more like three quarters. She's stubborn and loves taking risks and I love her so much, John. I'm sorry you missed so much – her first smile and the first time she said my name. She skipped her first steps and went straight to climbing things. There were times I was so terrified that I couldn't keep her safe, but I wouldn't trade her for anything."
John kept his eyes on the road, tears prickling at the back of his eyes. Rodney and his child had been all alone and they'd needed him.
"I'm sorry we didn't find you sooner," Rodney continued from the backseat. "After we escaped from the Trust. I think they just didn't believe it was in me to escape. That I was a soft scientist and a new dad." Rodney snorted. It was hard to tell if he was more upset that they thought him soft or that they didn't guard him well enough. "I waited a few weeks after Keyla was born, being a good prisoner, doing what they wanted me to do. One day my guard got called away, and I just walked away with Keyla. Of course I did make sure that their research facility blew up once I was well away. It was in the news for weeks."
"That was you?" John asked. "That explosion of the defense department's research facility in the Pacific Northwest?"
"That was me," Rodney answered. His voice was tinged with pride. "It was really the Trust; although for all I know they could have been part of the DOD. We've been on the run ever since. The one time I tried to contact the SGC, there were Trust operatives at my door within 30 minutes. I just thought it was too dangerous to try to contact anyone I knew. Even you. Even if I could get through to you, it wouldn't be fair to ask you to give up your life for a life on the run."
John pushed down the hot rush of anger that of course he would have gone with Rodney anywhere. Rodney had been in a bad place, he had a kid to take care of. He couldn't trust anyone. John didn't know what he would have done under those circumstances either.
"We're all back together now, Buddy, everything's going to be okay." John made a vow to himself that no one would ever separate them again. Then he looked into the back seat at Rodney and Keyla together. What if Rodney had moved on and didn't want John in his life again? John pushed the thought from his mind; he'd deal with that later if he had to. Right now, at that moment, the most important thing was getting them to safety.
It was dark out, the snow creating the illusion that they were all alone in the world. Rodney's head nodded and eventually he fell asleep, too, his cheek resting against his daughter's. John would have been just as happy to keep driving like that all night, enjoy the quiet time they had. He glanced down at the gas gauge. Yeah, they weren't going to be driving much farther if he didn't stop and get gas.
He pulled off the highway and found a station that was open all night. He was going to have to take the chance of going in to pay for his gas, but he thought it was safer than trying to use one of those places where he stuck his credit card into a reader. The Trust would be keeping a look out for his credit cards by now. Rodney stirred as he pulled into the brightly lit station.
"It's nothing, Buddy," John assured him, keeping his voice low so he didn't disturb Keyla. "Just stopping for gas."
Rodney mumbled something indistinct and went back to sleep. They'd shifted around so that Keyla was resting against his chest and Rodney had his arms wrapped around her. Even in his sleep, Rodney was protecting his daughter.
The snow was coming down in big wet flakes and it was beginning to stick, everything was covered in a snowy layer. A car pulled up to the pump next to John. A woman emerged from her car. She grinned at John as she shook the snow out of her hair.
"They said it was supposed to be cold and clear tonight. I would love to have a job where you can be wrong most of the time and it's alright," she laughed.
She was small with dark hair all twisted into a complicated looking braid. Her green eyes were lit with kindness. She glanced into the backseat and her eyes softened when she saw John's sleeping companions.
"Road trip?" she asked. She pulled out her handbag like she was going to pay for her gas inside before pumping it.
"Something like that," John hedged. "Hey, can you do me a favor and pay for my gas, too? I don't want to leave them here and have them wake up alone." It sounded like a lame explanation, but she nodded anyway.
"Sure. How much gas are you getting?"
John pulled out his wallet. He found a few twenties inside and he shoved them at her.
"This thing just eats up the gas," he said.
"Yeah, but I bet it's great on a night like tonight." She took his money and headed inside.
John gave it a few minutes and then began pumping gas.
It was all beginning to feel familiar – he and Rodney running for their lives. The only thing that was different was that they were on Earth. But even on Earth, there wasn't anyone that could stop the two of them. As long as they were together. John refused to let himself think about anything longer than getting through the next few hours, getting Rodney and Keyla someplace safe.
The woman came back from paying for the gas, her face was thoughtful. She eyed John and then her eyes drifted to the two people sleeping in the back seat. Her steps slowed as she approached the car. She seemed to come to a decision and she squared her shoulders, her steps became more sure.
"Are you John Sheppard?" she asked.
"Why would you ask that?" he hedged, not answering the question.
She shrugged, going to her car. She took the gas cap off and shoved in the pump. "They have a TV on inside. There's an Amber alert. Some guy named John Sheppard kidnapped a man and his daughter, that's all. You look a lot like the man in the photo they keep flashing on the screen."
John felt a chill that had nothing to do with the bite of the wind that whipped around them. He didn't know what to do. He just could not hurt this woman who was an innocent, just because she'd wondered into something that was above her head.
"What are you going to do?" he asked quietly while his mind kept coming up with and rejecting plans.
"I'm a nurse you know," she told him in a chatty voice, like they were talking over drinks at the local bistro. "I see a lot of people. Abused women who are terrified of the man standing at their side but they won't tell anyone because they're more afraid of what will happen if they do. I've seen people who are drugged out of their minds. But you know when I look at those people in your backseat I don't see anything except two people who are sleeping." She paused thoughtfully, her eyes on John. John didn't even dare breathe afraid she was going to pull out her cell phone at any moment and call the police. She smiled at him. "I'm a pretty good judge of people. And I just don't think you're the desperate man they said you were on that bulletin. Maybe I'm going to be sorry for this for the rest of my life, but I think there's something else going on here. So, John, should I call the police?"
"Please don't." Rodney's voice startled them both. Rodney had somehow gotten out of the car without either of them noticing. "Trust me when I say that we're not being kidnapped, it's the opposite really. He's saving us." Rodney's hand found John's, interlocking their fingers. John gave his hand a gentle squeeze.
She nodded. "Well, I'd advise you to lay low for awhile then. Someone wants you guys a lot. I mean a lot. They're talking about road blocks at all the major roads out of Colorado. They think you might be heading for Virginia. Something about Sheppard having a brother there?"
"Can you do us one more favor then?" John dug out the rest of the money in his wallet and gave it to her. "Can you get us some food for the road? Sandwiches and drinks and maybe some junk food, too?"
She grinned, taking the money. "Sure. This will buy a lot of junk food."
"You keep what's left over. If anyone finds out you helped us, you could be in a lot of trouble."
She rolled her eyes. "Oh, please, I'll just talk about how charming and sweet you were with your partner and your little girl and how you asked me nicely to help you. They'll say I was pretty stupid, but I won't get into any trouble." She gave a little wave and headed back into the little convenience store.
John was humbled that she was willing to help them without any reservations that the stories being told about them might be true.
"What are we going to do, John?" Rodney asked anxiously, watching the woman disappear into the store.
"We'll figure it out. Get back into the car where it's warm." He gave Rodney a little push to get him moving. John finished filling the car with gas waiting for the nurse to return.
She came back out with her arms full of bags. She hurried across the parking lot, her head down against the blowing snow. Rodney rolled down his window and she handed him the bags. He rifled through them, inspecting their contents.
"You bought us those little donuts with the white powder. I love those!"
"You'll also find bananas and fruit salad in there," she told him with a little smile. "I'd recommend them."
Rodney already had a cake thing open and was making moany little noises that John remembered all too well.
"Thank you," he mumbled through a mouth full of white cake and cream filling. "I think I love you." He looked up at the nurse with eyes full of adoration.
A knot formed in John's stomach. He knew it was just Rodney being Rodney, he didn't mean it. He'd said the same thing to anyone who brought him coffee or pudding cups or the latest find in Ancient Technology in Atlantis. But it hit John - what if Rodney had fallen in love with someone else in his 15 years of running and he'd just left her behind because he didn't want to subject her to a life on the run? What if Rodney wanted to return to her once it was safe?
John pushed those thoughts firmly away. If it had happened and Rodney wanted to go back to this hypothetical lover, then John wouldn't stand in his way. He wanted Rodney to be happy.
He smiled at the nurse as she held out the change.
"No, seriously," John told her. "You keep it."
She shook her head firmly. "I don't need it and I don't want anyone to ever think that I helped you because you paid me."
John stared at her, dumbstruck. "It's only 20 bucks. It wouldn't even fill up your car. No one will even know."
"I'll know. And I'm not helping you because you paid me. I'm helping you because of that little girl in the back seat. You both love her a lot and she doesn't deserve whatever will happen to her if the two of you get caught. So, don't get caught," she ordered John.
He gave her a small salute. "Yes, ma'am. Can I at least ask your name?"
She smiled at him. She had dimples that appeared when she smiled. "I'm Beth."
John took her hand in his, "Well, Beth, thank you so much for your help. If you ever need anything, call this number," John took out one of the cards that had his brother's personal number on it and slipped it into her hand, "and tell the man that answers that you need to get in touch with me, he'll know how. If he gives you any trouble, remind him that I took the flack when Dad's boat sunk. That should get his attention."
Her eyes widened, but the smile didn't even waver, "I'm sure it will. It sounds like an interesting story."
"You have no idea. Okay, I should let you be on your way before this snow makes it impossible."
"I'm not far from home," she assured him. "You all be careful."
"We will," he promised her.
Beth ducked her head to wave at Rodney. Rodney gave a little wave in return, his mouth full of white powdered donut. She got in her car and drove away.
John took a minute and cleared the windows as best he could. The time they'd spent at the gas station had them all steamed up. He climbed in the car and started it. Keyla was still asleep in the back seat. Rodney, now sitting in the passenger seat, was steadily working his way through the junk food in the bag Beth had brought them.
"Geeze, Rodney, save some for the rest of us."
Rodney clutched the bag close to him. "Get your own."
"It is mine. I bought it." It felt so much like the old days in Atlantis that John almost expected Ronon to snatch the bag away.
"Possession is nine tenths of the law," Rodney said in his superior way. "You need to keep your eye on the road. Do we have a plan?" Rodney stuffed another donut in his mouth showering white powder everywhere.
"Be careful. That stuff's hard to get out of the seat leather. And yes, I have a plan. I was thinking we'd just ride around, living off the land until the Trust got tired of looking for you."
It was worth it to see Rodney spraying half a donut on the dashboard. "What? You're not..." he gave a disgusted huff at John's bray of laughter. "Oh, fine, tease the man who's been on the run for 15 years of his life," he grumbled.
John bit his lip to hold in more laughter. "Okay, first thing we need to do is get rid of the SUV and we need to get rid of it fast. If there's an Amber alert out then everyone in Colorado is going to be looking for it."
Rodney nodded. "Agreed."
"And I think we should contact the SGC."
Rodney turned to stare at him. "No, no, no, no, no. Oh, and did I say no? Were you not listening before, when I said the one time I tried to call the SGC, I had Trust agents at my door? Or has your hair finally eaten what's left of your brain?"
God help him, it sounded like a declaration of love to John.
"A lot has changed at the SGC in the last 15 years. Landry went to work at the DOD. O'Neill's been in charge for the last 10 years or so. Let me just call him."
Rodney shook his head emphatically with a glance back to make sure Keyla was still sleeping. "You haven't spent every waking moment of the last 15 years afraid that someone was going to take you in the middle of the night, leaving her alone. Or worst yet, taking her, too. I've had to trust my instincts for all those years. I tried the SGC once and only once. You can call them, but drop me and Keyla off, we'll be better off alone." Rodney thrust out his chin, challenging John to just leave them.
John rolled his eyes. One of the things he loved about Rodney was his stubbornness and his determination. But he thought Rodney was wrong about this. "Okay, we'll do it your way. I have a place where we can hole up until we figure out what to do next. But we need to get rid of this car."
They were passing an all night diner and truck stop. John pulled in, careful to avoid any security cameras. He figured that the Trust probably had hacked every security camera in the state. He found a corner of the lot where they could park in a blind spot.
"There's one thing you have to do first." He climbed out of the SUV and opened up the rear hatch. He pulled out a first aid kit. This first aid kit wasn't sold at any stores. It was put together specially for John by Caroline Lam at the SGC. She understood when he asked for a just-in-case-things-went-fubar-emergency-kit.
He got back into the SUV and rummaged around in it. Keyla was still out in the back seat.
"She must have been beat." John nodded back at her sleeping form.
Rodney's jaw tightened. "It's been years since either one of us got a really good night's sleep. She never knew what I was afraid of, but she'd stay up with me most nights when I couldn't sleep because I kept hearing things in the night and I was afraid the Trust had found us again. It was just easier to stay awake most nights. This is probably the most uninterrupted sleep she's had in years."
"Rodney." John put his hand over Rodney's. He meant it as support, as comfort. Rodney slid his hand away.
"So, what's with the industrial-size first aid kit?" Rodney changed the subject.
John stuffed his hurt away. He didn't have a place in Rodney's life anymore; he didn't have a right to assume that he did.
"I have a subcutaneous transmitter. All the teams have them in case we get lost or stolen."
"You're still going through the gate?"
John shrugged, "Mostly it's on training missions, taking out trainees who are headed for Pegasus. I try to teach them enough to keep them alive. But yeah, I go on missions once in a while."
Rodney's eyes took on a far-away look for a moment; John imagined he was remembering Atlantis in better times.
"Why did you leave Atlantis?" Rodney asked, turning intent eyes on John.
John pulled out the things they would need – a small sharp knife, alcohol to use as a disinfectant, antibiotic to put on the wound afterwards, a bandage.
"Rodney..." John started, floundering immediately; trying to find the words to tell him how empty Atlantis had been after Rodney had died. John had lost so many friends and loved ones over the years. Rodney had just been the last straw. John couldn't stand to walk the hallways of his city and listen to the echoes of happier times.
"Don't hurt yourself, John," there was a tinge of bitterness in Rodney's voice. He changed the subject abruptly. "What are we doing here?" he asked irritated, gesturing at the parking lot, the diner, them.
"You need to cut out the subcu transmitter. The Trust can use it to track us if they know about it. And I'm not willing to bet our safety on the fact that they won't."
"What?" Rodney gasped. "I'm not... I can't... You do know that the 'doctor' in my title isn't for medicine, right?" He shrunk back against the window.
"You can do this, McKay," John said roughly. "It's not that far under the skin, you just have to make a little cut and it'll slide out."
"When have your plans ever worked that easily?"
"I can do it." The voice from the back seat surprised both of them. They turned to see Keyla regarding them both, bright and expectant. "We had to dissect a frog at school. It was cool!"
"Okay," John started to unbutton his shirt.
"What are you doing?" Rodney squeaked. "You're not going to let her do this."
"If you're not going to, do we have any other choice?" John demanded.
"Give me the knife," Rodney grumbled. He snapped his fingers when John didn't hand it over fast enough.
John passed the rest of the needed items back to Keyla. He pulled his shirt off and twisted in the seat so that Rodney could have free access to his shoulder. Rodney unhooked his seat belt so he could maneuver more freely.
"Where is it?" He touched John's shoulder hesitantly, grazing his fingers over the muscle there.
John grasped Rodney's fingers and moved them to where the transmitter had been inserted. He pushed Rodney's fingers down firmly over the small bump it formed under his skin.
"Can you feel it?"
Rodney had his lower lip caught in his teeth he was concentrating so hard. "Yeah." He pressed more firmly against the skin.
"Keyla, put some of that alcohol on some gauze, I need to disinfect this area." Rodney kept his fingers on the transmitter. He held out the other hand for the requested gauze. "And sterilize this." He handed the knife back to Keyla as she handed the alcohol-soaked gauze forward.
Rodney wiped down the area of skin where the transmitter was located. He was very methodical about it, wiping in circles around the spot where the transmitter was located.
"Knife?" He snapped his fingers again. Keyla slapped the knife into his open palm.
"Don't move," Rodney ordered.
"Not going anywhere," John said quietly.
Rodney had his face so close to John's skin, John could feel the warm exhale of his breath. Rodney probed the area one more time to make sure he knew where the transmitter was before he made an incision.
Rodney looked up at him. "I cannot believe I am doing this."
"We could still let Keyla do it," John smirked at him.
"I'm not even answering that," Rodney snapped. He made the small incision. His hands were as sure and steady as John had ever seen them. There was a little swell of blood but no transmitter.
"Is there a tweezer in that kit?" Rodney asked not taking his eyes from the blood he was mopping up with the wad of gauze.
Keyla rummaged through the kit, emerging triumphantly with a small pair of tweezers.
"Yes!" She held them up for John and Rodney to see.
"Yes, yes, sterilize them." Rodney said.
"I knew that," she snapped at him. "I'm not a baby you know, I was going to do it."
"I'm sure you could have," Rodney muttered. "I'll get you a toy doctor's bag for your birthday. You can waste your exceptional brain and become a voodoo practitioner."
"Rodney!" John scolded. Keyla didn't seem to be phased by Rodney's vitriol. She rolled her eyes and shared a grin with John. She handed over the sterilized tweezers to her father.
Rodney grasped the tweezers. He looked up at John. "Don't move." He began to probe at the tiny incision he'd made.
"Ow!" John whined. Mostly to wind Rodney up.
"Oh, please, I've seen you walking around with rebar in your gut."
There was a strange pulling sensation and a sharp stab of real pain. "Shit, that hurt," John gasped.
"Don't be a baby," Rodney said, his eyes were gleaming with satisfaction as he held up the transmitter. It was dripping with blood.
"That is so cool," Keyla said leaning forward to get a better look. "Can I have it?"
"No," Rodney turned to her. "We're going to destroy this because the bad guys can trace us with it."
"No, we're not going to destroy it," John grabbed Rodney's wrist. He shook out a little plastic bag that he'd pulled from the first-aid kit. He held it open for Rodney to put the transmitter inside. He tucked it into a pocket of his BDU pants.
As sure as Rodney had been with the knife and cutting out the transmitter, he was clumsy with the bandaging of the little wound.
Keyla plucked the tube of antibiotic ointment from Rodney's fingers with a disgusted noise.
"Here, let me," she said. She leaned over the seat to get closer to John. She bit her lip in concentration the same way Rodney had as she slathered some of the ointment on John's incision. Then she smoothed a little bandage over it.
"There," she said with satisfaction. "Good as new."
She sounded so proud of herself that John had to smother a smile. He didn't want her to think that her contribution had been trivial. He pulled his shirt back on and buttoned it up.
"Okay," John said once he was all buttoned back up, "you guys sit tight while I find what we need. Rodney, you might think about sharing some of that bag with Keyla while I'm gone."
John stepped out into the frigid night, the snow blowing into his face. He heard a squeal behind him as Keyla took in the bag full of junk food.
"Oh, no, miss, you are getting fruit salad." John heard Rodney's voice floating on the wind as he walked away.
It took John a while to find what he was looking for, longer than he would have liked. As he made his way back to the car, his footsteps left imprints in the snow. The snow was starting to accumulate; there was at least an inch of the white stuff on the ground.
A flurry of snowflakes followed him into the car. Rodney and Keyla were still happily demolishing the contents of the junk food bag.
"I can go look for him, no one will even notice me," Keyla was saying as John slid into the warmth of the car.
"Oh, look, he's back so no one has to go out into the snow and the cold to rescue him from the natives." Rodney waved a hand to take in all of John. Keyla frowned unsure what Rodney meant, but she seemed glad to see John returned safe and sound.
"Well?" Rodney asked. "Did you find what you were looking for? Are you ever going to share the plan with the rest of the class?" Rodney sounded extremely disgruntled to be left out of the planning. A wave of fondness swept over John.
"I went to find us another ride," John told them. He ran a hand through his hair showering the car with mini snow flurries. It made Rodney squawk with indignation while Keyla squealed with delight.
Rodney brushed snow off with disdain. "That's actually a good idea," Rodney admitted grudgingly. "With that Amber alert everyone is going to be looking for this car. I hope you got us something good."
John had to hide his glee. "You might say I found us an American classic. This," he held up the baggie with the transmitter, "is going to stay with the SUV so the Trust won't know that we've changed cars unless they stop the car." He reached across Rodney to put the baggie in the glove compartment.
"That's actually a good idea," Rodney allowed grudgingly.
"Thanks." John replied, heavy on the sarcasm. "Now, we need to get our supplies together and make sure we're ready to go."
Rodney clutched the bag with what was left of their junk food. Keyla began packing everything back into the first aid kit.
"I have a few more things in the back," John told them. He was the only one that was really dressed for the weather so he got out of the car and went to the back. He heard another door slam. He looked up to see Rodney hurrying around to join him in the back.
"Rodney, it's frickin' freezing out here. Stay in the car."
"I need to be involved, John," Rodney told him. "I've been doing everything for 15 years now. I can't just sit in the car and let you run the whole show." Rodney pushed in close to John to share his warmth. John leaned back the slightest bit.
"Not that you ever did that before." John popped the hatch and then pulled up the false bottom that concealed the supplies he always had ready there.
"You drove around with this every day?" he asked, incredulous. There was a variety of weapons and other forms of mass destruction in John's storage space.
"I learned in Atlantis that it was always best to have weapons in reserve. You never know when Earth is going to be attacked by the Ori or a rogue band of Wraith. I intend to be ready for them." John pulled out a backpack and started to fill it.
"How did you get this?" Rodney ran an admiring hand over a Zat.
John snatched it from him and stuffed it in the bag. "It was a gift from Teal'c, if you must know."
Keyla scrambled to hang over the back seat in order to see what they were doing.
"What is all that stuff?" she asked. She reached out to pick up one of the weapons. Rodney slapped her hand.
"You do not touch any of these things until you've been properly trained."
She scowled at him as she snatched her hand back. "When will that be?"
"Oh, let me see." Rodney rocked back on his heels while he considered it. "Never."
"That's not fair," she wailed. "I bet John would let me."
He shook his head. "Don't bring me into this. This is between you and your father." He put C4 into the pack.
"You're my father, too," she said, her tone wheedling and sweet.
John hesitated, looking at her. He was a father now. He might get to teach Keyla about skateboards and flying and all sorts of other cool stuff. But weapons? He shook his head. "No, that won't work either." John kept shifting things into the bag until the storage space was empty. He shouldered it just as the next part of his plan came together.
A dirty white Gremlin pulled up next to the SUV.
"What is that?" There was horror in Rodney's voice.
"That, Rodney, is our ride."
Rodney looked from John's SUV to the Gremlin that looked like it was being held together with bailing wire and chewing gum. It was a non-descript, dirty white that nearly disappeared in the snowy landscape.
"How does that even still run?" he demanded of the world at large.
"Hey man, don't diss my ride." A mountain of a man got out of the little car. He just seemed to keep unfolding out of it. He looked over at John. "Are you sure about this, man? You want to trade my car for this?" He ran an admiring hand over John's SUV. "This is a joke right?"
"Nope, straight deal," John assured him. "We're in a bit of a bind..." he started.
The mountain man interrupted him. "Don't tell me. I can't tell anything I don't know," he said with disarming frankness. He put his keys in John's hand. "You should know that Isabella sticks a little in first. You just have to muscle through it. She's sweet as anything on the road once you hit fourth."
He snatched John's key fob and barely waited for Keyla to climb out, with her blanket wrapped around her before he climbed in. A window rolled down so he could wave goodbye. John leaned in. "You're going to take care of that other matter for me?" he asked.
The big guy nodded. "You can count on me." He revved the engine and then he took off.
"You have got to be kidding me," Rodney groused as they watched the big, warm SUV disappear into the snowy night. He trudged over to the passenger side door and tried to open the door.
"It's locked," he informed John. Rodney frowned and gave a whole body shiver. John was abruptly aware that Rodney was not dressed for cold weather. He was wearing jeans and a pair of ratty tennis shoes that had definitely seen better days. His t-shirt declared "I'm with genius."
John hurried over to the car and unlocked the door. Rodney and Keyla climbed in to escape the cold. John opened the hatch to toss in his backpack of supplies. The night was growing colder; it was getting icy, too. He was glad to climb into the car where, even though it wasn't exactly warm, it was out of the wind.
"I cannot believe you traded our nice warm SUV for this... this... miniature car wannabee." Rodney's voice rose in indignation.
"Don't be mean to Isabella, she'll take it personally," John didn't even try to disguise his grin. "They're never going to look for us in this."
"Yes, because we're going to die of embarrassment from being seen in it."
"I think it's cute," Keyla piped up, her head popping up between the two of them.
"You, put your seat belt on," Rodney ordered.
"There isn't one," she told him cheerfully with a bounce.
"What?" Rodney turned to regard the backseat with horror. "How can there not be seatbelts? Isn't that a law or something?"
"Maybe," Keyla answered. She shrugged, "they've been cut out or something from back here."
Rodney turned to John, "You cannot expect us to ride around in this death trap."
John gave an aggrieved sigh. "Rodney, calm down, it's not a jumper, but it's certainly not a death trap. I looked it over before I approached the owner. It runs well, it's got good snow tires, it might look like it's going to fall apart at the seams at any moment, but it's solid."
"But you missed that it didn't have seat belts in the back." Rodney pointed out at the top of his voice.
"If you're worried about it, you sit in the back. Let Keyla move up here."
Keyla squealed with delight and started to climb over the seat. Rodney grumbled, but he got out and shoved the seat forward so he could crawl into the back.
"You realize if there's an accident, I'm going to die back here don't you?" he moaned as he settled himself. Keyla had left her blanket so he wrapped himself up like a burrito.
"Relax, McKay, there's not going to be an accident. I'm a good driver. We've got a couple of hours to drive, why don't you get some more sleep?" John suggested brightly.
"Don't blame me when we all end up dead," Rodney intoned from the backseat. He wriggled one way and then another. He must have finally found a comfortable position because he pulled the blanket up to his chin and, leaning his head back against the frosty window, he closed his eyes.
John turned the key in the ignition. The car started with a purr. The engine sounded sweet. He tried to put the car in first, it was stiff and it didn't want to slide into place. He worked the lever through the gears and then went back to first, this time it shifted into place. He pushed down on the gas and let out the clutch slowly. The car lurched forward and then stalled out.
"Dead." Rodney's voice floated from the back seat.
Keyla leaned in. "Don't listen to him, he's a pessimist," she confided in a whisper loud enough for Rodney to hear.
"You be quiet, I'm trying to sleep. And put on your seatbelt."
Keyla scowled, but she put on the seatbelt. She looked over at John with an 'if I have to, you do, too' look on her face. He made a show of pulling down the seatbelt and clicking it in place.
John turned the key in the ignition again. He gave it more gas this time as he let up on the clutch. The car lurched forward but it stayed started. He steered them toward the street, where he shifted into second. The transition this time went much smoother. Keyla leaned over his shoulder to look at the dashboard.
"We've got plenty of gas. Where are we going?" She leaned down to fiddle with the radio. The standard radio that would have been installed when the car was new had been replaced with a state of the art stereo system and CD player. There was even a place to plug in an iPod. So at least they had some amenities.
"I know a place we can go. It's out of the way. We should be safe there for a little while. We can rest and figure out what to do next."
Keyla went through the channels not settling until she found a station where rich instrumental music filled the car.
"Seriously?" John asked.
She held a finger to her lips and gestured at Rodney in the back seat. "He sleeps better to this kind of music," she said.
Rodney's face was a shadow in the rear view mirror. John couldn't really see it unless they passed under a street light that would illuminate Rodney's face. He appeared to be sound asleep, but John had spent too many nights with Rodney, he knew when Rodney was asleep. He was relaxed and resting, but he wasn't sleeping. John decided it was better to let Keyla think Rodney was asleep.
"What kind of music do you like?" He had been more at ease with her when she had been just a runaway that he was trying to help. There were no expectations then, but now he was nervous. What if she didn't like him?
She shrugged. "Lots of stuff I guess. Dad gave me piano lessons for awhile and I like a lot of classical stuff, I like jazz and rock. But I think I like country best." They were passing under a street light and John caught a faint grimace on Rodney's face. "I mean there's nothing like the Man in Black, you know?"
"You like Johnny Cash." John stared at her for a moment.
"Well yeah, doesn't everyone?"
"My thoughts exactly." He smiled at her. She smiled back.
"John, are you really my dad?"
"You were supposed to be asleep for that," John said just to stall. This was not a conversation he wanted to have. It was a conversation Rodney needed to have. Keyla was... John's daughter. He swallowed the fear and resolved to do his best to answer her questions.
"Yeah, just like Rodney is now."
"I am asleep," Rodney stated. "You've got this one, Sheppard. It's about time you started pulling your weight around here."
The only sound in the car for a few minutes was the swish of the windshield wipers and the crunch of the tires as they drove through the snowy night.
Keyla, in the way of teenagers everywhere, had a limited amount of patience. "John?"
"I guess, yeah, I'm your dad." There he'd said it. Maybe they could move onto a simpler subject - like thermonuclear energy or how to end global warming. "So, what do you like to do? I like college football and Ferris wheels and anything that goes over 200 miles an hour."
John was sure he heard a distinct snicker from the backseat.
Keyla gave a wave of her hand, dismissing the change of subject. "How can you both be my father? I mean I know I could be adopted or something like that, but dad said he was pregnant. How is that possible?"
"Rodney haven't you taught her it's not polite to eavesdrop on other people's conversations?"
"Oh, come on," Keyla wheedled. "It's not like I couldn't not listen. Are you going to tell me I need to be more grown up? I hate that." Her lips formed a downward slash just like Rodney's when she glared at him.
"Yeah, I did, too, when I was your age." John took a deep breath. "Okay, this is complicated," John started, trying to figure out the right words. "Your dad and I were both part of the Deep Space Telemetry project I was talking about before."
John nodded. "It's where we met. Only it was really a very secret program that involved traveling to other planets."
"I knew it!" she exclaimed. "My dad used to tell me stores about a city called Atlantis that was under the ocean. Is that where you traveled to?"
John nodded. "It's beautiful. But it used to be the home of a group of people called the Ancients."
Keyla's eyes were wide, she leaned in. "Did you ever meet any of those Ancients?" She was barely breathing in her excitement.
"They were all gone by the time we got there. But they were a pretty smart race and they made all of these crazy, amazing things. Some of it was scary and could be very dangerous, but some of it was pretty cool. Like they made space ships called jumpers..."
There was a grumble of 'Gate ships, they go through the gate,' from Rodney which John chose to ignore.
"There were space ships?" Keyla eyes were starry in wonder.
"You remember us talking about the ATA gene before?" John asked.
"Well you have to have the ATA gene to fly the jumpers, it's like they read your mind."
"That is so cool. I could fly a jumper?"
"If we ever go to Atlantis, yeah, you could fly a jumper." John didn't think there was any harm in telling her that. It wasn't like she would ever be going to Atlantis.
"What else did these Ancients make?"
"Well we didn't know why, but there was a machine that if two people of the same sex touched it, it would change the inside of one of the people so he could have a baby."
Keyla bit her lip taking it all in. "What if they were girls?"
John thought this must be like what having a toddler was like, always asking questions.
"Well, it would take the genetic material of the two people who touched it and use it to create a zygote. If one of the people had the appropriate... parts"
"Like a vagina," supplied Keyla.
John felt his face heating up but he continued doggedly, "Yes, that, it would implant the zygote there to grow properly. But if the two people were men, it would pick the one most suitable and create a false... uhm..."
"Yeah. And it would implant the baby there. I guess it must have made a few other plumbing changes. But if the host was a man, the baby would have to be delivered by a C-section." John could not believe that Rodney had gone through all that alone.
"Dad has a huge scar on his stomach. He doesn't ever want anyone to see it," Keyla whispered to John. Rodney must have finally gone to sleep because there were no more commentary from the backseat.
"I am really sorry I didn't know about you guys," John told her. "I would have never left you alone if I'd known. I would have found you somehow."
"It's okay," Keyla put her hand on John's where it rested on the stick shift. Her hand was so small and soft. "We're together now."
John cleared his throat. "Yeah," he agreed. He didn't know how much longer they would be together, or how much longer Rodney would want them to be together, but he'd stick with them as long as Rodney let him.
They were back on the highway. Traffic was light, which was a good thing. The snow had begun to accumulate, and there was a layer of ice under the snow. It made the going treacherous.
"So, how did you find me?" John asked Keyla.
She bounced in her seat again. "It was really easy. I just put your name into Google one day and you popped up. I wasn't sure it was you, you. But I found an old picture that Dad carried around with him and it was you alright. It was an article about conference hearings for funding of the Deep Space Telemetry project. You testified at the hearing. Something like that. Does anyone really believe that's a real thing?" she demanded
John laughed and shrugged. "Someone must. They keep giving us money for it."
She nodded thoughtfully. "Anyway, I just kept searching and I found out where you lived in Colorado Springs. I did an analysis of your credit card bills..."
"You hacked my credit cards?" John stared at her, mouth open in disbelief.
She shrugged. "It was pretty easy, you know. Anyway, I noticed that you liked to eat at that Italian place a lot, so I decided that would be the best place to meet you."
"You planned the whole thing? Why didn't you tell me who you were from the beginning?"
"Would you have believed me if I had just walked up to you and said, 'Hi, my name is Keyla and I'm your daughter?'
"Point," John had to concede.
"I thought about it a lot. Meeting you I mean. I know I should have told my dad, but I didn't. I liked having something that was just mine." There was a quiver in her voice.
"It's okay." John turned his hand so they were holding hands. He gave hers a little squeeze. "We're together now."
"Are we going to stay together?"
John hedged, not wanting to hurt her so soon, "I'll stay with you as long as Rodney wants me to."
She laid her head back against the seat back. Her eyes were starting to droop again. She kept her hand in John's.
"Tell me about Atlantis," she said.
And for the first time in many years, John could talk about Atlantis without it hurting. He told Keyla about Teyla, about her bravery and how smart she was. He told her about Ronon and Torren. He told her how beautiful the city was and how you could make doors open just by thinking about it. He didn't tell her about the Wraith or any of the scary things in Pegasus. He figured that Keyla had enough scary things in her life at the moment, she didn't need more.
"I'm going to go there someday," she declared sleepily when John trailed off, his throat scratchy.
"Yeah, sure," he said, evading the issue.
He drove on, the strains of classical music filling the car. Keyla slept in the front seat, Rodney stretched out in the back.
He'd believed for so long that he would never see Rodney again. Trust Rodney to come back from the dead with a daughter in tow. John had to admit that Rodney had done a pretty good job with Keyla. She was a great kid – smart and funny. It was going to hurt like hell to give her up. But he was determined to do whatever Rodney wanted once they were out of their current mess.
He saw the turn off they needed and maneuvered the car in that direction. He cut the wheel too fast and the car fish tailed a little before John turned into the swerve and righted them. Both of the people in the car slept through it. He slowed down a little more and took the off ramp. There was now officially several inches of snow accumulated. It wasn't really unusual for Colorado Springs, but it was damn inconvenient when you were fleeing for your life to have to slow down because of the weather.
He grinned wryly even though there was no one to see it. It seemed that their bad luck had followed them from Pegasus. But John was confident of their ability to escape. He just wasn't sure how they were going to do it quite yet.
Their destination wasn't far – he'd been there before and could make it in an hour on a good day. But the night was far from good. The snow just kept coming down thicker and the road kept getting slicker. He slowed his speed from 60 to 45 to 35 to creeping along. He didn't really mind. He could see Rodney when he looked in the rear view mirror and Keyla snored softly in the passenger seat.
John had gone on with his life when he thought Rodney had died. Or at least he thought he had. He'd gone on the occasional date because someone else arranged it – usually Mitchell or Daniel Jackson. He even had the very occasional date that stayed the night, but it was never more than that and he never had a second date with anyone. He always told himself that there was time. It had taken him 40 years to find Rodney, he wasn't going to just fall in love with someone new overnight. Now he realized that he'd been avoiding the issue, he'd put his life on hold. It had never occurred to him that Rodney might not be dead. He just wasn't interested in finding someone new and starting over. He'd had his work at the SGC, he had friends, his life was good.
Or so he thought.
Now, looking at the sleeping forms of Rodney and Keyla he realized how hollow his life had been. He'd just been walking through his life waiting until the day that he could be with Rodney again. The thought that there could be someone waiting for Rodney made John's heart ache.
John was driving slowly, he wasn't in a hurry to get where they were going. But he had one eye on the road and one eye on Rodney in the backseat. He missed it when something, a deer maybe, ran across the road in front of him. He didn't even see the animal clearly, it was a just a flash in the road. John swerved trying to avoid it, but that was a mistake in the snowy conditions. The car went into a skid, skating across the ice. They kept sliding until they were off the road and smashed into a tree.
Although he had his seat belt on, the car didn't have air bags, so John hit the steering wheel hard. He was also going to have a hell of bruise from the seat belt. He looked over at Keyla to find that she'd slept through the whole thing. She blinked at him sleepily.
"John?" She rubbed at her eyes. "You're bleeding."
"What the hell happened?" Rodney demanded from the back seat, from the vicinity of the floor it sounded like. "I told you we would die in this death trap of a car."
"We're not dead, Rodney." John winced. Everything was too loud and the horn must have been stuck because it wouldn't stop sounding. "We had a small accident."
"Small?" Rodney's voice rose in disbelief. "You're bleeding, you know that, don't you?"
"I told him that," Keyla informed her father primly. She already had the first aid kit out and was inspecting the gash over John's left eye. "I think this needs stitches."
John caught her hand before she could fish suture and needles out of the first aid kit.
"No stitches," he said. He picked through the first aid kit and came up with a wad of gauze that he could use to stanch the flow of blood from the gash.
"Hallelujah, he's come to his senses," Rodney said from the backset, in full sarcasm mode.
"At least not here," John added. "We're almost to the cabin I was headed for. It's only about 5 more minutes up the road."
"If we were driving," Rodney pointed out.
"If we were driving," John agreed glumly. He pulled away the gauze and eyed his wound in the rearview mirror. It was still seeping a little so he pressed the gauze back down, wincing.
"What?" Keyla looked from John to Rodney and back again. "How are we getting there?"
"I guess we're going to have to walk."
"I knew it," Rodney moaned. "We're all going to freeze to death. They'll find us on the side of the road in the spring, huddled together."
"We're not going to die, Rodney. Stop it, you're scaring Keyla." John scolded.
"I'm not afraid," Keyla asserted, but her face was white.
"The cabin is only about a half mile up the road. We can make that easy on foot." His wound had mostly stopped bleeding, so John found a bandage and slapped that on. "Okay, everyone grab something and let's go."
The car had come to rest tilted with John's side buried in the snow, so they were going to have to exit through Keyla's door.
"Keyla, you move to the back with Rodney, let me get the door open." John psyched himself up to move while Keyla climbed to the backseat with her father. John had a few bruises, he was sure he was going to have a beaut of a bruise from the seat belt and another from the steering wheel, but he was pretty sure there was nothing broken, they hadn't been going fast enough.
He groaned a little as he pushed himself up to reach the passenger side door.
"John?" Rodney's voice was tinged with his concern.
"I'm fine." It wasn't a lie. John was mostly fine. He was fine enough to get them all to the cabin and then he could stretch out and let Rodney and Keyla fuss over him. He was even looking forward to it.
The door groaned but it opened easily enough. Rodney handed up their backpacks and John threw them out into the snow. Then he pushed himself through the opening. He landed in snow that came up to his knees. He was soaked in no time flat and he was the best dressed of their motley little group. At least he had on a long sleeved tee under his BDU shirt and he had a leather jacket.
They were going to have to walk fast or Keyla and Rodney could be in danger of frostbite or, even worse, hypothermia. John didn't want to worry them, because they didn't have many other choices, he just resolved to get them to the cabin as quickly as he could.
"Okay," he called, "send Keyla out."
She came through the door feet first. She threw herself at John with such force that they both ended up in the snow. Keyla giggled.
"I've never seen so much snow." She lay on her back beside John making snow angels.
"Stop that right this instant," Rodney climbed out of the car after her, trailing the blanket. "You are going to catch your death of pneumonia."
John turned to stare at Rodney, "You did not just say that. You are such a dad." He held out his hand to Keyla to help her up. "But he's right you know. We don't have any dry clothes for you. Let's leave the snow angel making for another day. Okay?"
She pouted, but she wrapped the blanket around her. She was already beginning to shiver. John unzipped his jacket and passed it to Rodney.
"I am not taking your jacket," Rodney pushed it back at John.
"Come on, McKay. I'm better dressed for the weather. You're already turning blue around the mouth. Come on, put it on for Keyla."
"Oh, sure, make it about Keyla." But Rodney took the jacket, zipping it up.
"Okay, everyone take a pack. We can't wait around here. It's going to get colder before daylight and we want to be in the cabin where it's warm and dry."
John went first, breaking a trail through the snow for Keyla and Rodney to follow. He noticed that Rodney automatically brought up the rear, leaving Keyla between them. They made it back to the road without any further mishaps.
"Okay," John pulled Keyla up the slight embankment onto the road, then he held out his hand to help Rodney up. Rodney hesitated for the barest second, but then he clasped John's hand firmly. John pulled him up until Rodney was on the road, too. John kept hold of Rodney's hand a second longer than necessary before he let go. He turned them in the direction they needed to go.
"Okay, just think warm thoughts."
"Warm thoughts?" Rodney snorted. "What are warm thoughts?"
Keyla skipped ahead of them, "You know dad, thoughts that are warm."
"She's definitely your daughter," Rodney pointed at John with a frown.
"I'll take her." The thought warmed John's heart. It didn't help with the wind that cut through his clothes though.
"Warm thoughts?" Rodney's doubt was plain on his face.
"You know, like that day we spent on the mainland where it was so hot you thought you were going to melt into a puddle?" John offered helpfully.
"What about that time the environmental systems went haywire and the ambient mean temperature was 80 degrees for 3 days straight?" Rodney was getting into the spirit of the game.
"I have never known Lorne to complain about anything, but he complained about that. He said that heat made him cranky."
"Oh, I have one," Keyla skipped back to them. She inserted herself between them, taking both of their hands. "Remember that day you took me to the boardwalk? It was so hot, you got us ice cream and we walked along the shore with bare feet."
Rodney gave her a fond smile, "Yeah, I remember. That was a good day."
She smiled back up at him.
They had all these memories between the two of them. John was determined that he was going to make memories of his own with them. He'd been prepared to be noble and walk away if Rodney asked him to, but John suddenly realized that he couldn't let these two people go.
"Hey look," Keyla pointed at the shape that appeared out of the snow. "Is that our cabin?"
"That's the one."
"Oh, my god." Rodney stopped, staring at the cabin. "I can't believe you brought us to Jack O'Neill's cabin."
"It's not like the General is here, Rodney. He lets some of us use it when we want. He's so busy at the SGC and in Washington that he barely gets up here anymore. No one is going to look for us here, Rodney." John tugged on Rodney's hand to get him moving again. "O'Neill keeps it fully stocked and there's hot water."
The hot water was what got Rodney moving again. He was shivering so badly that his teeth were chattering. He followed along behind John and Keyla begrudgingly.
"Last one in gets the last shower," John called.
Rodney picked up the pace, but Keyla beat them all to the porch. John paused at the bottom stair and reached under the opening. He searched around for a second for the key.
"Don't tell me you brought us all this way and you can't find the key." Rodney hugged his arms around himself. Keyla wrapped her arms around him, sharing her blanket with him.
"Found it." John held up the key triumphantly.
They tromped up the stairs and let themselves in. John turned the lights on, revealing the cabin.
Calling it a cabin was somewhat of a misnomer. The living room had a huge flat screen TV along with a gaming system and surround sound. The furniture was soft and comfortable. There were 3 bedrooms, each with their own bathroom. The kitchen was fully stocked and gleamed with all new appliances. There were even clothes in the dressers from the people who usually came up for a summer retreat. John sent Keyla and Rodney to take hot showers and to find clean, dry clothes while he took stock of their situation.
By the time father and daughter returned, John had cleaned up his wound and changed into dry clothes of his own that he kept there. He had found a pot and had a simple hot meal of soup and warm crusty bread laid out on the table for them.
Keyla screamed and fell on the food.
Rodney sat pulling a bowl in front of him. He scooped up a spoonful of soup and moaned. "I think I love you, will you marry me?" He froze with his spoon half way to his mouth when he realized what he had said. "Uhm... John... you know I mean that in a purely platonic way of course."
John's heart was pounding, but he waved his spoon. "Sure, Rodney, no problem."
Keyla stomped her foot. "Yes, there is a problem. I did not go to all this trouble to get you two together if you're not going to be together." Tears were suddenly swimming in her eyes.
"Honey," Rodney said with more patience than John had ever imagined him having, "we can't just walk into John's life and expect him to drop everything for us. I mean, he's helping us now but that's just the way he is. I'm sure he has a life of his own that he's anxious to get back to. People who are waiting for him."
"Yes," John heard himself say.
"See," Rodney tried to be reasonable with Keyla. It only made her wail louder. "He'll always be a part of our lives; he's your father, too, after all."
She was crying so hard now that she was hiccupping, "I want us to be a family."
John took a deep breath. It was now or never. If he didn't speak now, he might never be able to. "Rodney, you're not listening. Yes, you can just walk into my life and expect me to drop everything. I mean how is this any different than before when you just expected me to give up everything and go with you to Pegasus?"
"You didn't go with me to Pegasus," Rodney corrected. "You joined the expedition because it was the only thing to do."
"Trust me, Rodney, it wasn't the only thing to do. It was a one way trip, I didn't know if I was ever going to get to come home again. The only reason I went was because of this crazy scientist who kept calling me Major Lightswitch and asking me to touch things."
Rodney's mouth had dropped open and Keyla's tears had stopped.
"You went because of me?"
John shrugged, "And the space ships of course."
"You do love me?" The uncertainty in Rodney's voice hurt. John had never meant for Rodney to not know. It was just hard for him to say. He didn't want to take the chance that Rodney might leave him again without knowing.
"Yes, Rodney, I do... you know, that." John gestured between them. Keyla was beaming so much they could have lit the kitchen with just her smile.
Rodney glared. "You still can't say it."
"I've never been very good with words, Rodney. I'm better at show than tell." John reeled Rodney in and kissed him. It was like coming home. Rodney's lips were warm and welcoming. When John pulled away, Rodney swayed a little towards him.
"Ew!" Keyla gasped. "You can never do that again."
John grinned, "I thought you wanted us to be a family."
"I do, but I don't want you do... that!" She shook a finger at them. They stood together, arm in arm.
"Get used to it, kid." Rodney kissed John this time. They kept it short because they couldn't go any further in the current circumstances, but the kiss was a promise of more to come.
They broke apart, both laughing at Keyla who scowled at them.
"So, you don't have someone waiting for you back at home?" Rodney asked anxiously, if a little late.
John grinned at him, "Nah, unless you count Cam Mitchell. He keeps trying to get me to fly experimental planes with him."
"I always knew that flyboy was up to no good." Rodney's face darkened at the mention of Cam's name.
John decided it was time to change the subject before Rodney brought up the subject of the lemon; it looked like he was still pissed about that.
"What about you, Rodney, you break any hearts in your years on the run?"
"Oh, yes, because having a snot nosed rug rat is a good way to pick up women."
"Hey!" the snot nosed rug rat objected.
"So, you saying I'm the love of your life, McKay?" John teased.
Rodney reddened. "Eat your soup."
John grinned down at his bowl. He felt buoyant, like he might just float from happiness. He had a family again. For the first time in years, he had a place to belong.
They ate the rest of their dinner laughing and sharing stories.
Rodney almost spit his soup all over John when he found out about Radek. "Radek Zelenka is pregnant?"
"You should see him." John held a hand in front of his stomach to indicate Radek's current state of pregnancy.
"Isn't he too old?"
John shrugged. "Carolyn Lam is always going on about the health of anyone who's spent any amount of time on Atlantis. Something about it being the fountain of youth. She thinks there's something the Ancients literally put in the water to increase their life span. Look at you and me;" John gestured with his spoon, "we haven't aged that much in the last 15 years."
"Speak for yourself." Rodney gave John the stink eye. "Do you know how much your daughter has aged me? She was climbing before she could even walk. She climbed everything. It about gave me a heart attack the first time I found her on top of her dresser. She was worse than the cat."
John shared a grin with Keyla.
"You should see General O'Neill. He's what? 70ish? The man doesn't look a day over 50 and he keeps up with men half his age."
"So, maybe you and me could have another child someday?" Rodney asked wistfully.
"I could have a brother or sister?" Keyla shrieked with delight.
"Well, not right away," John said. "We'd have to get back to Atlantis for that."
"We would have to, wouldn't we?" Rodney had that look he got just before he started crossing wires and things started blowing up. John had always found it best to stay out of the way and let Rodney work.
"Alright." John stood, stretching. "I think it's time we got some rest. Tomorrow's going to be here sooner than we're ready for and we have to figure out what we're going to do. I'll take first watch."
"You've been driving all night," Rodney protested. "At least let me have first watch."
"I'll take first watch," Keyla piped up.
"No," both men said in chorus.
"Rodney, let me." John glanced over at Keyla where she stood pouting at them both. "You've been keeping watch for 15 years now. Let me take a turn."
"Okay." Rodney gave in grudgingly. "But wake me up in 2 hours."
"Sure." John agreed, knowing that he wouldn't. Rodney knew it, too.
"I think we should all sleep in here," John said. He really couldn't bear to have them sleeping in different rooms. He wanted his whole family together where he could see them. Know that it was all real and that it wasn't some drug-induced fantasy.
They settled quickly. It had been a full night and the trudge in the snow had taken all their strength. Rodney stretched out on one of O'Neill's wide, comfy sofas, Keyla curled up with him. John found a quilt in the linen closet and shook it out over them both.
"I'm really glad you came with us, John." Keyla blinked up at him sleepily.
"Me, too." He smoothed her hair away from her eyes. "Go to sleep."
Rodney was already snoring. John dropped a kiss on his forehead, too.
John pulled a chair over to the window so he could keep watch outside. The window had a magnificent view of the mountainside when it wasn't snowing. Now all he could see was the swirl of snow. Soon, the hypnotic swirl of white and the sounds of his family's even breathing sent John into sleep.
He snapped awake all at once. The snow had stopped and the moon was out. It was almost as bright as day with the moon reflecting off of the snow.
He didn't know what had woke him up. Rodney and Keyla still slept soundly, the night was quiet. John strained. There had been something. Then it came to him what he was hearing. It was the almost silent whump, whump, whump of a helicopter in stealth mode.
Rodney sat up straight before John could say anything.
"John?" he whispered.
"They're here." John found the packs where they had been dumped by the door. He'd hoped they'd have at least a few hours to regroup, but it looked like that wasn't going to happen. He took out a P90, inserted a clip and made sure it was ready to fire. He handed Rodney a weapon. Rodney picked out the correct clip and inserted it expertly.
"Don't I get a gun?" Keyla peered into the bag curiously.
John zipped the pack shut and slung it over a shoulder. "No, you're going to hide in that closet," he indicated the linen closet that the quilt had come out of. "And you're going to stay quiet. Don't come out for anyone but me or your dad. Okay?"
She looked like she wanted to protest, but she nodded and moved toward the indicated door. She paused with her hand on the knob. She turned back to Rodney. He rushed over to her. He gave her a quick kiss and hugged her close.
"You're a brat you know that, don't you?"
She nodded, "But you love brats."
"I do. Okay, in you go." He opened the door for her. She went into the closet and sat on the floor. Rodney handed her down a pillow from the shelf and another blanket. "Don't worry about us, we'll be okay."
She nodded. Rodney closed the door. He turned back to John.
John had drawn the curtain over the big glass window in the living room, but he drew it open a sliver so he could see what was happening outside. The helicopter had landed in front of the cabin, not making any pretense at stealth. With the moonlight being so bright, John could see figures exiting the helicopter. He counted seven figures. Six commandos. The seventh figure was one they knew, all too well. John motioned Rodney forward to take a look.
"General Landry," his words were so low John barely heard them.
"You were right about him." John didn't miss Rodney's 'oh, really?' smirk. "He must have been working with the Trust all along. When you called into the SGC that first time, he must have told them where you were."
"You think?" Rodney scowled at the shadowy figure that had made his life hell for 15 years.
"O'Neill always thought he was up to something, but he's never been able to turn up any evidence."
"Guess we've got his proof, we just have to hope we live to deliver it."
"There is that. Okay, I have an idea." John gave him a wry smile.
"I'm not going to like it am I?" Rodney asked, his shoulders squared, ready to do whatever John was going to ask of him.
"Yeah, I'm pretty sure you're not," John agreed wryly. There were two smaller windows on either side of the big window. He broke one of them.
"You broke a window in Jack O'Neill's cabin." Rodney stared at John like he'd just grown three heads.
"Oh, that's not the worst thing we're going to do," John assured him before he told Rodney the plan.
John finished setting the C4 through the house while Rodney held back the intruders with John's P90. Rodney wasn't as good a shot as John, but he didn't have to be. He only had to keep the intruders pinned down until John was ready with the rest of the plan. Every time one of the commandos stuck their head around the helicopter Rodney sent a burst of P90 fire at them. He didn't need to hit them, just scare them. He'd gone through one clip already and so far it was keeping the bad guys pinned down. John knew it wouldn't be effective long. He had to work fast.
He looked over at Rodney. "You ready?"
Rodney fired off a shot before he gave John a terse nod. "Just make sure that no matter what happens, you get Keyla out. And if anything happens to me, you'll take care of her?"
"Rodney, we'll both take care of her."
"Yeah," John told him with finality. They shared a look that said more than their words ever had – I love you, and I'll always be there for you, and don't ever leave me again. Then Rodney turned back to the window, squeezing off another shot as John went to the closet. Keyla had kept her word and hadn't come out. He knew she had to be frightened with the constant P90 fire.
He opened the door. Keyla was standing inside. She'd found a baseball bat in the back of the closet. She was wielding it like a club. When she saw that it was John standing in the open door, she dropped the bat, throwing herself into his arms burying her face against his chest.
"I was so scared. I heard all the shots and I thought you were both dead." Her words were muffled and he could feel hot tears soaking into his shirt.
John smoothed a hand down her back soothingly.
"I'd like to let you cry it all out, but we've got to hurry." He held her away from him, wiping her tears away with a gentle thumb. "Are you going to be alright?"
She nodded, sniffing mightily, hiccupping a little. She picked up the baseball bat again. "What do I need to do?"
John smiled at her. "Good girl." He held out a coat he'd found that he thought was about her size. He buttoned it up snugly and pulled the hood up over her head. "Stay with me and do just what I say."
John turned to Rodney. "Everything is set up in here, Rodney. We're going out the back, you remember what to do?"
"The plan isn't that hard, John, I think I can handle it." Rodney didn't turn to look at them; his attention was focused on the intruders outside.
Keyla ran across the room and hugged Rodney fiercely. Rodney dropped a kiss upon her head.
"Go with, John," he said. "Be good."
She gave a broken giggle, "Aren't I always?"
"Brat," Rodney told her fondly.
"I love you, Dad," she said softly. She went to John and put her hand in his. John gave one last look back at Rodney before they ran through the house and out the back door. They heard two shots, it was impossible to tell if it was Rodney or someone else's weapon.
It was the last hour before dawn. The moon had set so that the sky was clear now and the light of countless stars could be seen. Even without the moonlight the snow reflected enough light for them to see by.
The commandos in the helicopter were pinned down by Rodney. They couldn't stick their heads out of the cover afforded by the 'copter without risking being fired upon. John guessed that they'd get tired of waiting eventually and rush the house. John had to be in place before that happened.
He and Keyla slogged through the snow quietly, staying out of sight of the 'copter. They made it to the cover of the forest that surrounded the cabin without being seen. John breathed a little easier even as he heard a sustained line of fire. Keyla stumbled and he reached out to steady her.
"Was that him?" she asked, her voice so low he could barely hear her.
"He's fine," John replied, his voice just as low. They had to be careful. With the snow their voices would carry. The only weapon they truly had on their side was surprise and it was vital that they maintained that surprise. He looked down at his watch. Two minutes gone, he'd told Rodney to give them five minutes to get into place. Three minutes to go, they could do it.
They worked their way through the trees. John went first, clearing a trail for Keyla. He was as silent as he could, but the snow crunched under their feet.
They made their way until they were hidden in a copse of trees directly across from the porch. It gave them excellent cover and afforded them a clear view of the helicopter and the house beyond. The only problem was that there was no more cover between them and 'copter. It was absolutely clear for the 100 feet to the house. It wasn't that far, but there was no way John could make it without being seen against the crisp whiteness of the snow. He looked down at his watch. Four minutes. Almost time.
"Alright, no matter what happens next, you need to stay here." He stared into her eyes trying to impress upon her how important it was that she listen to him.
She gripped her bat tightly. "What's going to happen? Why can't I help?"
"I have to get to the helicopter fast. I can't do that if I'm worrying about you, so stay here and stay safe, okay?" John just prayed that Keyla would listen to him better than Rodney ever had.
She nodded. "Okay. I'll stay here."
"Hey," Rodney's voice rang out in the night. He was standing on the porch, arms outstretched. He was improvising and John cursed to himself. John just had to hope that these guys wanted Rodney alive or he was going to be very dead very soon. "You guys in the helicopter. You want me, come and get me." Rodney turned and stomped back into the house.
It took 20 seconds for anyone to break cover. Rodney had hit two of them, but there were still four men standing, they were dressed all in black and they stood out starkly against the snow. The door to the cockpit of the helicopter opened and Landry jumped out.
"Well, you heard the man," Landry shouted. He stayed in the cover of the helicopter. "Go get him."
One of the commandos took a hesitant step toward the house, then another. When it was apparent that no one was shooting at them anymore, the others took up position next to him. They advanced toward the house in a V formation. Landry's attention was on the cabin. As his men got closer, he ventured farther from the helicopter. John could see the pilot as a shadowy form inside the cockpit. He was turned watching the action at the cabin. It was the best chance John was going to get.
"Stay," he said to Keyla one more time.
He took off at a loping run toward the helicopter, the best he could do in the snow. Beyond it he could see the commandos approach the porch, mounting the stairs. John made it to the helicopter without being seen. He ducked under the tail and crept forward. The commandos were entering the house, not bothering to check the door to see if was unlocked – they broke it down and rushed inside.
The cabin blew up with a fire ball that lit up the sky bright as day.
John jerked the door to the cockpit open and pulled the pilot out. The man flailed but recovered his wits quickly. He reached for his weapon, but John was faster. John barreled into the pilot, knocking him backwards into the snow. They rolled a couple of times. trading punches. The pilot hit John in the head, right over the gash from the accident. John lay there too stunned to move. It allowed the other man time to get to his feet, time to draw his weapon. John saw the gun, knew he couldn't move fast enough to get out of the way of a bullet. He gathered himself knowing it was useless, but he had to keep trying, he had Rodney and Keyla now, he couldn't quit. A baseball bat came out of nowhere and crashed down on the pilot's arm. The gun fell from his grasp into the snow at his feet.
John threw himself on the weapon. He didn't even stand, he just rolled, firing at the same time. The pilot fell, the red pool of his blood staining the snow around him. John pushed himself to his knees, his head still reeling. He looked around for Keyla to yell at her for not staying put like he told her to or to thank her for saving his life, it could go either way. Except she was gone. He stood, one hand on the helicopter for balance, searching for her.
"Keyla," he called hoarsely.
Landry stepped forward, his arm around her throat, a gun in his hand.
"I would suggest you stand down, Sheppard." The General's voice was cold in a way that had nothing to do with the temperature.
Keyla struggled in his grasp. He put the gun to her head. "Stop that now or I'll get rid of you like I should have done the day you were born," he barked out.
"Let my daughter go," Rodney's voice rang out. There was the sound of a zat being fired and then Landry and Keyla were falling. They lay together, sprawled in the snow.
John and Rodney ran to them. Rodney threw down the zat before kneeling at Keyla's siding. He picked her up and held her gently in his lap, smoothing her hair away from her face. John took care of binding Landry's hands with a pair of plastic handcuffs he found in Landry's belt.
"Is she?" John asked, he couldn't bring himself to finish the sentence.
Rodney's fingers were at Keyla's throat, searching for a pulse. Rodney paused, and time seemed suspended as John waited for his answer.
"She has a pulse." Rodney's words were sobbed as he gathered his daughter to him. "She's alive."
Her eyes fluttered weakly and then opened. She smiled up at her father. Then she turned her head anxiously to find John. He knelt down next to them, his arm around Rodney.
"I thought I told you stay put."
She winced. "I told you I had moves."
John smiled at her and pulled her up so that both of them were holding her. "Yeah, I guess you do."
There was a flash of white light and suddenly the three found themselves on the deck of the Daedalus. General O'Neill stared down at them.
"You blew up my cabin, Sheppard."
John and Rodney exchanged a glance. John swallowed. "It seemed like a good idea at the time, sir."
"Holy crap," Keyla exclaimed. "Are we on a space ship?"
They debriefed in the med bay where John's head wound was treated. He had a mild concussion from the combined blows to the head from the accident and the hit from the pilot during their fight. Keyla was mildly hypothermic. She was put to bed with a cup of warm tea and an IV. The doctor ordered her to stay there. John was pleased to see that she didn't listen to the doctor either when she showed up at his bedside for the debrief. She quietly tucked herself into Rodney's side, sipping her tea, bundled into a blanket.
"Did you get Landry, Sir?" John asked. It was warm and dry in the infirmary so John didn't protest too hard when the doctor insisted that he stay for observation.
O'Neill nodded. "We've suspected for a while that he was feeding information to the Trust, we just couldn't get any evidence on him."
Rodney rocked back on his heels. "I think we took care of that for you."
"By blowing up my cabin," O'Neill reminded him. "Welcome back from the dead by the way."
"Don't I at least get a party?" Rodney hugged Keyla close to him.
O'Neill threw a jaundiced glance in Rodney's direction. "Daniel's died about four times now. We'll talk when you catch up with him."
"I bet Daniel Jackson never came back with a daughter." Rodney pointed out, smug as could be.
Jack's smile was tinged with sadness as he regarded Rodney and Keyla. All he said was, "That's true." He gripped John's shoulder. "So, I guess we have a lot to talk about when you're feeling better?"
John nodded. "I guess we do."
"You know where to find me." O'Neill left then, leaving the little family together.
Rodney turned to him. "You called O'Neill. I don't know how you did it, but you called O'Neill." Rodney was nearly quivering with anger.
John was sorry he was angry, but he wasn't sorry for what he had done. "You remember that guy who traded us the Gremlin for my SUV?" Rodney nodded. "I gave him my phone because I knew the Trust would be tracking that, too. I told him to call O'Neill and to tell the General we were headed for the cabin and might need some back up." Rodney opened his mouth to begin a rant. John hurried on to short circuit it, "I've worked with the General for the last 10 years, Rodney. I knew he couldn't have been involved with what happened to you. And he was the only one who was going to be able to help us. Unless... did you want us to be on the run for the rest of our life?"
"No," Rodney denied hotly. "I just... I've been afraid for so long. It's kind of hard to let it go."
John took his hand, threading their fingers together. "I know what you mean. You've been dead so long I keep thinking I'm going to wake up and find out it was all a dream."
"Don't worry, I'll pinch you so you'll know you're awake." Rodney grasped his hand tighter, smirking down at him.
"Ew!" Keyla broke the tender moment. She rolled her eyes. "I'm going to need therapy if you two keep that up."
"I know the name of a good therapist," John sat up a little straighter. "In Atlantis."
Keyla jumped onto his bed, curling up beside him. "Can we go there, really? And live. And never move again?"
John curled an arm around her. "I think that's up to your father."
They both turned to look at Rodney, who was watching them with a dorky smile on his face. John was pretty sure he was wearing the matching smile on his face.
"What do you say, Rodney. Want to go Atlantis with us?"
Rodney sat on John's other side. "Just try and keep me away."
The next two weeks passed in a breathless rush. John had to resign his commission. He made arrangements for all of the things they needed to be brought on the Daedalus' next trip to Pegasus. The really important things – Rodney and Keyla – were going through the wormhole with him.
It turned out that returning from the dead really was a big deal. Sam Carter came down from the General Hammond to welcome Rodney home. If John had ever been worried that she might return Rodney's feelings, it was allayed when she punched him in the arm and said, "Way to not be dead, McKay."
Of course, they had to go to Toronto to see Jeannie. They'd called her first so that she wasn't hit with it the way John had been. It didn't seem to matter. She broke into tears when she opened her door to find Rodney standing on her doorstep. She hugged him so hard that Rodney swore that his ribs were creaking.
She insisted on taking Keyla and Madison shopping for clothes because two men couldn't possibly be trusted with the very important task of dressing a teenager. John was actually kind of grateful. He was still in shock at finding himself the father of a nearly grown daughter.
It left John and Rodney alone for the first time since they'd been reunited. They took the opportunity to get reacquainted in a more intimate fashion. Rodney was obviously nervous when they were naked at last. He tried to cover the c-section scar with a corner of the blanket. John pulled the blanket away, tracing the scar with gentle fingers. By the time they heard the laughter of the girls returning, they were sweaty and sated. John rolled over, half on Rodney and kissed him deeply, licking into his mouth.
"There's more of that later," he promised.
"Mmmm," Rodney hummed, kissing him back, "I'll take you up on that."
The SGC opened the wormhole for them and let them step through to Atlantis rather than making them take the ten-day trip on the Daedalus.
"When someone comes back from the dead, they get a few perks," O'Neill shrugged off their thanks. He nodded at the gate tech. "Dial the gate."
John and Rodney went down the stairs to the gateroom, Keyla between them holding their hands.
"Does it hurt?" she whispered.
The gate circled, each chevron locking in place. The wormhole formed with a blue splash.
John and Rodney shared a smile. "Nah." John squeezed her hand. "It's just like walking through a door."
They each shouldered a pack with the clothes they would need and some personal things they didn't trust to the Daedalus. John had seen Rodney packing and knew that his bag was filled with computers and electronics. John had thrown in a few extra t-shirts and shorts for Rodney in his pack.
They walked up the ramp, not looking back as they stepped through the gate.
John felt Atlantis' joy as he stepped through the gate. It was like a warm rush to return to her. He'd almost forgotten that feeling.
Keyla clutched his arm. "Is that the city?"
There was no one in the gate room to meet them. John didn't expect a party but he thought someone would be there to greet them.
Woolsey hurried down the stairs.
"General Sheppard, Dr. McKay, we are so glad to see you. And this must be Keyla?"
Keyla ducked her head shyly, hiding behind her fathers.
John offered his hand. "Just John Sheppard now, Mr. Woolsey. Radek offered Rodney a job doing pretty much anything he wanted. I was hoping you could find something for me to do?"
Woolsey shook his hand, nodding. "Oh, I think we can find something to do to keep you busy. Teyla and I were just talking yesterday that we needed an official liaison between the Coalition and Earth. Mostly I think she just wants a jumper pilot at her beck and call." Woolsey smiled at them, obviously pleased to see them.
"Where is everyone?" Rodney had stood quietly as long as he could. "I didn't expect a cake or anything, but this is ridiculous."
"Oh, they're all in the mess hall. It's Torren's birthday. I think they're waiting for you there."
"Oh, man, I forgot Torren's birthday." John ran a hand through his hair, thinking.
"I am sure that he will be happy to see you, no gifts necessary." Mr. Woolsey waved a hand, indicating they should go to the mess hall.
John held on to Keyla's hand firmly, overwhelmed by the rush of memory and joy to be back in the city.
Rodney talked nonstop the entire way. "The city was under water when we got here. I told you that right?" He didn't wait for Keyla's answer. "We thought we had to leave, but just as the ZedPM was out of power the entire city rose out of the sea. It was the most amazing thing I've ever seen. The city was 10,000 years old and it rose as smoothly as anything I've ever seen." John let the words wash over him; he enjoyed the cadence of Rodney's words. It had always reassured him that everything was going to be alright as long as Rodney could talk and now was no exception.
Keyla took in everything with wide, wonder-filled eyes.
When they got to the mess hall it seemed as if everyone in the city was there. There was a banner along one wall that proclaimed, "Welcome Back John and Rodney." There was a cake in the shape of a jumper and it was about as big as a jumper, too. As they entered, the room erupted into applause and cheers that was almost deafening.
John could see Teyla and Ronon across the room beaming at them, Torren stood next to his mother. He towered over her. When John and Rodney entered, he ran across the room, enveloping them both in a hug.
"I'm sorry we kind of pre-empted your birthday," John apologized once he was released.
"Are you kidding?" Torren hugged them again impulsively. "You are the best birthday present ever. You're staying right? Is this Keyla?"
Keyla had chosen that moment to become a shy teenager. She was hiding behind her fathers. Torren smiled at her.
"Maybe I can show you the mainland sometime?"
She looked at Rodney desperately for help. When he didn't say anything, she nodded her head. "I... yes... I'd like that. Thank you." John didn't know much about teenagers, but he thought that the way Keyla blushed when Torren smiled at her wasn't a good thing.
Rodney seemed to know how to deal with that. "Just remember that we're her fathers. We've killed Wraith and the Genii fear us." Torren nodded quickly, backing away. "Good. Now, is that cake?" Rodney wandered in the direction of the cake.
Teyla and Ronon waited for them there.
Ronon picked Rodney up in a hug, whirling around with him.
"Put me down, you big oaf." Rodney pounded on Ronon's back.
"Just glad to see you, McKay," Ronon told him.
Rodney eyes were suspiciously bright. "Glad to see you, too."
Teyla stepped forward. She was dressed in the bright robes of the President of the Coalition of Planets, but John could see the joy in her eyes. She put her hands on Rodney's shoulders and they touched heads in the Athosian embrace.
"I was sure that not even death could part you from us for long, Dr. McKay." She turned to John and they shared the Athosian embrace. "It is good to have you home where you belong."
"It's good to be home." John looked around him at his friends – he could see Lorne standing with Radek and their sons. Radek was even more pregnant than he'd been when they talked just two weeks before. Carson stood next to them keeping a watchful eye on Radek
John couldn't believe how much his life had changed in just two weeks. He'd been just existing, now he felt like his life had been returned to him. He intended to live every minute that had been given to him as if it was a gift.
John joined Rodney at the cake table.
"You know I love you, right?" John whispered in Rodney's ear.
Rodney scooped up a bit of cake on his fork. He held it out for John. "I do," he said. The smile he wore was just for John.