Author: Ami Ven
Word Count: 4,700
Prompt: mcsheplets challenge 099 ‘desperate’
Fandom: Stargate Atlantis
Pairing(s): John Sheppard/Rodney McKay
Summary: The team find a lab where Ancient scientists have safeguarded the work of their lifetime – but it’s not quite what they were expecting.
When John stepped into the long-sealed, recently-discovered Ancient lab, only half of the lights came on, and not very brightly.
“Huh,” he said, using the light from his P90 to peer into a few shadowy corners.
Rodney scowled, already plugging his laptop into a nearby console. “You’re getting complacent, colonel,” he said, “always expecting Ancient technology to roll over and beg for you. But eventually, we were bound to run into something that was immune to your charms.”
“It’s not working any better for you,” John protested. “And didn’t you say this place is drawing a lot of power?”
“It is,” said Rodney.
“Then why is none of the equipment working?” asked Teyla, joining them.
“None of this,” said Rodney, gesturing vaguely with one hand and typing with the other, “is drawing any power at all.”
“Then what is?” asked Ronon.
“That’s what I’m trying to find out,” Rodney snapped.
“Teyla, stay with him,” said John. “Ronon and I will check this place out.”
“And don’t touch anything!” Rodney yelled after them.
The outpost wasn’t any bigger on the inside than it had appeared from outside. There were empty living quarters, empty storage spaces, empty work rooms, but no hidden doors or even any other dormant equipment. In the last closet – actually a closet and not a transporter, John had checked – Ronon found a broken Wraith stunner.
“Wraith worshipers?” he asked, when they reported back in to the rest of their team.
“Wraith scientists,” said Rodney, then frowned and corrected, “Ancient scientists studying the Wraith. I found their logs.”
“And?” prompted John.
“And… it’s good enough that I’m downloading everything, but I don’t think they made any significant breakthroughs.”
“Skip to the end,” said John. “I want to know what happened.”
“What happened is that they died, Colonel Clueless,” said Rodney, even as he started scrolling through the logs. “If the Wraith didn’t get them directly, this lab is ten thousand years old.”
“Perhaps they relocated,” said Teyla. “And continued their research elsewhere. That location may be recorded.”
“That’s… that’s a good point,” Rodney allowed. “Let’s see… here’s the final entry. There’s no data, only text.”
“And what does it say?” asked John.
“It’s in Ancient, give me a minute. Okay, here – We are out of time. Our distress beacons have gone unanswered. We can only hope that our… Comrades? That sounds too Russian. But not friends, not colleagues – you know what I mean, other Ancients… We can only hope… they… have survived, because we will not. Our sensors show a Wraith hive ship on a direct course. They have already cut off access to the stargate in the next system, even if we were willing to risk the flight. But we are not. We will hide – Oh, here we go.”
“What?” John demanded.
“They hid their work – the work of our lifetime, it says, that must be big.”
Ronon peered over his shoulder and pointed at a string of Ancient letters. “That phrase means precious treasure.”
“What?” said Rodney. “No, no, this word means work. But with implications of… of having been made with your own hands. A legacy. A magnum opus.”
“But the surrounding words clearly indicate strong emotion,” added Teyla.
“They’re scientists,” Rodney protested. “Of course they’d be a little emotional about achieving something so—”
“And does the log say where this precious work was hidden?” interrupted John, before it could escalate into a full-blown literary analysis.
“No,” said Rodney. “Wait, yes. They were studying Wraith technology, especially the transporter. They installed one – an Ancient redesign of one – here in the lab.”
John frowned. “You said nothing in the lab was drawing power.”
“I meant nothing Ancient,” said Rodney. “The transporter is clearly a hybrid, not quite ancient and not quite Wraith, and my equipment didn’t register it correctly.”
“But now it does?” said Teyla.
“Yes, and it’s drawing almost all the power I was reading. And by ‘almost’ I mean everything but the lights. Give me just a second…”
Rodney hit a few keys, and a round section of the ceiling lit up.
“So, the treasure’s up there?” said Ronon.
“It’s not a treasure, it’s a scientific breakthrough,” said Rodney. “But yes.”
John raised his gun toward the space under the tranporter, then waited a beat for Teyla and Ronon to do the same. “Okay,” he said. “Beam it down, Scotty.”
“You’re hilarious,” Rodney told him, sarcastically, and activated the beam.
The whine was a little flatter than a regular Wraith transporter and the light was a much brighter blue – when it faded, John’s brain had barely registered what he was seeing when a small voice yelled “Daddy!” and a tiny blur was hurtling toward him.
John jerked the barrel of his P90 out of the way and caught the boy with one arm. He was about Torren’s size, maybe three or four years old – a few years younger than the girl who was still standing where she had been rematerialized, a blanket-covered bundle in her arms.
“What—?” John began, shoving his gun at Ronon.
The boy looked up at him. “Daddy?” he repeated.
The girl clutched her bundle tighter. “Tilton, get away from him, that’s not Dad.”
John let him go. “No, I’m not,” he said, as the kid scrambled away, to grab the girl’s skirt. “But we’re not going to hurt you. I’m John. That’s Teyla and Ronon and Rodney.”
“We are from Atlantis,” added Teyla – and before John could shoot her a look, the girl brightened.
“Our aunt lives in Atlantis. Did she send you?”
“Not exactly,” said John.
“I’m Liabet,” the girl continued. “That’s Tilton, and this is Malin.”
“She looks heavy,” said Teyla. “May I hold her?”
John had no idea what she meant, but Liabet regarded her for a long moment, then nodded, “Gotta hold her head.”
“I will be very careful,” Teyla promised, and took the bundle – which was actually a blanket-wrapped baby. The baby gave a whimper of protest as she was passed over, but she quieted when Teyla began to rock her.
“She likes you,” said Liabet.
Teyla smiled. “I have a child of my own. His name is Torren.”
The boy, Tilton, peered out from behind her at John. “How come you look like our dad?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “But I do know someone who can tell us. His name is Carson, and he lives in Atlantis, too. Would you like to meet him?”
Liabet frowned. “Will Mama and Papa be waiting for us on Atlantis?”
“I…” John began.
To his surprise, Ronon dropped to one knee, to be at the children’s level. “It’s been a long time since your parents put you in that machine,” he said, gently. “A long, long time. We don’t know what happened to them. But the people who live in Atlantis now are good people. They took me in when I lost my people, and they’ll take good care of you, too.”
Liabet looked at him for a long moment, then held out her hand. “We’ll come with you.”
“Well, the good news is that they’re all in excellent health,” said Carson.
He stood outside the door to the infirmary’s isolation room, where John and his team could see their new guests. Kanaan held baby Malin, while Torren was talking excitedly to her older siblings – Teyla had asked him to tell Liabet and Tilton about the city.
“And the bad news?” Rodney prompted.
“They’re definitely Ancients,” said Carson. “Their results match everything we have on record.”
“So these kids are all ten thousand years old?” asked John.
“Aye,” the doctor said. “Unless Rodney’s found differently in the information from the lab?”
“No, we were definitely the first people to enter the lab after their parents left,” Rodney said.
“And there’s nothing else on the planet,” put in John. “Lorne took three teams of Marines and they searched ten miles out from the outpost. Which still had a ‘jumper sitting in the garage.”
“Then their parents are dead,” said Ronon.
“Long, long dead,” said Rondey.
“Aye,” Carson said again. “But that brings me to the strange news.”
“Strange how?” asked John.
“Well,” said Carson, “as you know, I’ve made a bit of a project studying the ATA gene. Especially yours, John. They all have the gene, of course, even the wee lass. And I don’t know what made me think to run their DNA against our database, but…”
“There was a match?” asked Teyla.
“And quite a surprise!” said Carson. “Now, there’s more than a bit of a genetic change that can happen in ten thousand years, even with one gene like the ATA.”
“Like how Lorne and I can work the command chair better than you can, Doc?” said John.
“Yes, exactly. But that’s just the normal DNA found in your cells, a new combination formed by the mother’s and father’s genetic codes. I also examined the children’s mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down unchanged from mother to child. And that DNA is an exact match. To yours, colonel.”
“Mine?” John repeated, faintly.
Carson nodded. “You mentioned that the children said you looked like their father, but you’re clearly descended from the same maternal line.”
Rodney snapped his fingers. “The aunt,” he said. “The girl said they had an aunt who lived in Atlantis. She must have evacuated to Earth and… gotten busy.”
“Thanks, McKay,” drawled John.
Carson looked disapprovingly at the pair of them, but said, “As indelicately as Rodney may have phrased that, it does solve a bit of a legal problem. It’ll be no trouble to prove John as their next of kin.”
It took a moment for that to register. “You want them to give me custody?”
“Temporarily,” said Carson, “You’re wonderful with little Torren.”
“I’m not – I can’t—”
Teyla rested a hand on his arm. “You will do fine.”
It was Carson who told the kids about their parents, letting the boy, Tilton, cry into the shoulder of his lab coat.
“What will happen to us now?” asked the girl, Liabet.
“Ah,” said Carson.
He glanced up at where John stood in the office doorway, Malin in his arms – Teyla had simply handed the baby to him, despite his protests, then leaned up to press their foreheads together.
“Be patient,” she said. “With them and with yourself. I will bring some of Torren’s old things, and see what the Athosian children can spare until we receive proper supplies.”
“Supplies?” John repeated.
“Major Lorne has already ordered them,” she said, and left, taking Ronon with her.
“You’ll remember Colonel Sheppard,” said Carson, to the children. “Well, he’s actually something of a cousin to all of you, and he’ll be looking after you until we can get everything sorted out.”
The boy, Tilton, frowned. “Cousin?”
John managed a reassuring smile. “How about you call me ‘Uncle John’, like Torren does?”
While John directed the Marines moving his things and what supplies they’d scrounged for the children into a freshly cleaned-out two-bedroom apartment, Rodney kept an eye on the kids, bouncing Malin with an experienced hand and quizzing the other two about Ancient schooling.
Liabet was seven Earth years old, almost eight, and very smart for her age. She had a good knowledge of math and science, and picked up the basics of the English alphabet in just the couple of hours they’d been talking. Tilton was four and asked just as many questions as he answered. He’d quickly lost his shyness as the Marines stopped to introduce themselves, and they started finding small things for him to carry. Malin could only babble nonsense syllable sounds, but her older siblings confirmed that she was almost a year old.
“I’m sorry you guys have to share,” said John, spreading a blanket over one of the two small beds.
Liabet took the other side and smoothed it out. “That’s okay, Uncle John,” she said. “We share at home – I mean, we used to. Before.”
“Hey,” he said, softly. John made sure both kids were looking at him and continued, “I want you guys to know that you can talk to me, about anything. If… if you’re worried or scared or have questions…”
Tilton, who was closer, hugged him with childish carelessness. “I’m hungry, Uncle John.”
John smiled. “Now, that’s something I can fix. What do you say, Uncle Rodney?”
“I think these kids have probably never had chocolate pudding,” said Rodney.
“No,” said Liabet. “What’s chocolate?”
John held out a hand, and she took it. “Let’s find out.”
It was actually easier than John expected, suddenly living with three small children. The experience he’d had with Torren helped a lot, which he thought Teyla must know, given her usual smug expression, but it was well worth it for her calm assistance and advice. Lorne helped him change the duty roster, taking his team out of the rotation for off-world missions, and Woolsey wrote up the report to the SGC to start the process of getting the kids US identification paperwork.
Dr. Otieno, the new psychologist, had warned John that even though Liabet and Tilton seemed to be adjusting, kids were unpredictable. John tried to remember how he’d felt and what he’d needed when he’d lost his own mother, not much older than they were, but mostly he just tried to be there, the way his father hadn’t been.
He thought the worst was over by the end of the first week. John had settled into the routine of caring for baby Malin, who was simultaneously the most work, with all her feedings and diaper changes, but also the least, since she had the least to adjust to. After Liabet and Tilton had gotten the hang of toothbrushes, zippers, and other Earth-based technology, he was more willing to listen to Rodney’s plan for expanding the schooling schedule he’d developed for Torren to include the older two kids.
But John had barely fallen asleep that night when he was woken again by a shrill cry. He scrabbled for the gun he no longer kept on his nightstand, then rolled out of bed and raced for the kids’ room.
Malin was crying, so he scooped her up first. Liabet was sitting up in bed, blinking in concern, but Tilton was nowhere to be seen, until John’s eyes adjusted to the dark enough for him to make out the lump underneath his covers on the other bed.
“Hey, buddy,” he said, softly, bouncing Malin against his shoulder. “Tilton, you okay?”
“No,” said a little voice from under the blanket.
“He had a nightmare,” Liabet said, in that matter-of-fact way even Earth kids had. “I think he woke himself up when he screamed.”
“Did not,” muttered Tilton.
As Malin calmed, John sat at the foot of Tilton’s bed. “Hey, nightmares are nothing to take lightly. When I dream about clowns…”
A small face peeked out. “What’s a clown?”
“I’ll show you,” John said, “but not until tomorrow, when it’s light out.”
“And you’re scared of them?” asked Liabet.
“Terrified,” John agreed.
Tilton looked at him for a long moment, then said, “I dreamed about the Wraith.”
“We were… we were all home again. Me and Liabet and Malin and… and Mom and Dad. Then the Wraith came. But we didn’t hide, and they… they ate us!”
“Hey, hey,” said John, “It’s okay. You’re here and safe. I won’t let the Wraith get you.”
“Promise?” Tilton asked, eyes shining.
“Promise,” said John. “Think you can go back to sleep?”
“Um…” the boy said.
“How about I put your sister back to bed, then I sit here with you until you fall asleep?”
“Would you?” Tilton asked.
“Of course.” John settled Malin in her crib, already asleep again. He crossed to Liabet and straightened her blankets, getting a bright smile in return, then sat back across the foot of Tilton’s bed. “Okay?”
The boy wriggled back under his own covers. “Okay.”
The nightmares didn’t stop. Liabet and Tilton both had them, and John spent as much time half-asleep at the foot of one of their beds as he did in his own. During the day, the kids, including Malin, joined Torren in his pre-school classes, while John tried to keep up with the paperwork Lorne wasn’t doing while he was off-world covering for John.
He was actually getting pretty good at the paperwork – not that he’d tell Lorne – but after almost a month of interrupted nights, he woke to find himself at the foot of Liabet’s bed, half-covered with the blanket from Tilton’s, and none of the kids in sight.
John blinked and stumbled to his feet, then heard a quickly-stifled giggle from the next room.
Smiling, he opened the door into the living room. Ronon held baby Malin, who was trying to catch his dreadlocks, Teyla and Liabet were making tea, and Rodney had Torren and Tilton, one on each shoulder, giggling as they tried not to fall off.
“Hey, he’s up,” said Ronon. “How’re you feeling?”
“Better,” John admitted. “But you should have woken me.”
“We figured the kids needed a break from you,” teased Rodney, tipping both boys onto the sofa.
Teyla handed John a cup of Athosian tea. “Children can be so… energetic, can’t they?”
John huffed a laugh. “Do I look that bad?”
“No,” she said. “But you did not wake when I arrived, and Tilton says you have spent many nights with them, when their dreams are bad.”
“Yeah,” said John. “I don’t know what else to do.”
Teyla smiled. “You are doing enough,” she said. “But I may know a way to help.”
“Anything,” he said.
She leaned up to touch their foreheads together. “I will arrange it.”
Halling and Jinto arrived on the weekly jumper shuttle from the Athosian mainland to Atlantis. The young man was almost as tall as his father now, but even skinnier, and John grinned at him.
“Teyla called in the big guns, huh?” he asked.
Jinto smiled. “I admit, I’m curious to meet children of the Ancestors,” he said. “But I’d like to help them, if I can.”
“We should let the children talk alone,” added Halling. “These things often go smoother without interference.”
John nodded. They arrived at his quarters just as Rodney was finishing a reading lesson, and he introduced Jinto. Liabet and Tilton seemed just as curious to meet him, so they left them talking in the kids’ bedroom while John made up a bottle for Malin in the little kitchenette Rodney had rigged in the corner of the living room.
“You do that with a practiced hand, colonel,” observed Halling.
“After doing it wrong a bunch of times,” John said.
“That is how all parents learn. I was no more knowledgeable when Jinto was small. It will get easier with time.”
“They’re not—” John began, but Malin began to fuss and he quickly passed Rodney the warmed bottle.
“Thanks,” Rodney said, and moved back to sit on the couch, Malin balanced against his chest.
“You were saying, colonel?” asked Halling.
“What?” asked John, who had been distracted watching Malin. “Sorry. The kids, they’re not staying. I mean, I’m just keeping them until the SGC can find a real family for them.”
Halling frowned. “Teyla said you were their family.”
“Maybe by blood, and only distantly,” said John. “They’re just kids, they deserve real parents.”
“You and Dr. McKay seem to be doing very well.”
“We’re not…” John sighed. “I just want what’s best for them.”
“Of course,” said Halling, just as the bedroom door opened and the kids came tumbling out.
There were a few moments of noisy chaos, until Rodney passed a fed and burped Malin to Halling and started organizing snacks, letting John pull Jinto to the side.
“You don’t have to tell me what they said,” John told him, “but…”
Jinto smiled. “I don’t think there’s anything to worry about,” he said. “The nightmares… I had similar ones when I was their age, after the first culling I saw. They faded after a time, though they never completely go away.”
“Yeah,” said John.
“They also say that they feel safe with you, Colonel Sheppard,” added Jinto. “So much has changed for them. They miss their parents, but they are happy to be here with you.”
“I…” John blinked.
“Jinto!” called Tilton, from the couch. “Come have snacks with us!”
John smiled. “Thanks, Jinto.”
“Hey,” said John, catching Rodney’s arm. “Where are you going?”
Rodney paused. “Uh…”
They’d just finished putting the kids to bed, a familiar routine by now, but Rodney always left for his own quarters afterward.
“You don’t have to go,” John said, and sounded more pleading than he intended.
“You…” tried Rodney again. “I don’t want to be in the way.”
“No, not like… The kids have been through so much, this is all such a big change for them. They need some calm and stability until… until the SGC finds them a real family.”
John frowned. “Yeah, but that doesn’t mean we can’t…”
“Hey,” Rodney said. “I know how distracted I can get when we’ve got a new project in the lab, and you never complain. Suddenly having three kids to take care of must be even harder.”
“But just because we’re not… you know… I’ll still be here to help,” Rodney continued. “You ran yourself ragged trying to do everything by yourself, because you forgot you were part of a team. So, I’ll try to be here more often, help out more.”
“You…” John leaned in to kiss him, long and hard. “You’re amazing, Rodney.”
Rodney smiled, surprised and pleased and a little smug. “I know.”
“Ah, colonel,” said Woolsey. He’d asked John to stop by his office when he had a minute. “I know things have been… busy, for your team, but hopefully that is about to change. The SGC just got back to us with information about prospective foster families for your young charges. Please look them over and let me know your impressions.”
“Right,” said John, taking the flash drive. “I’ll… get back to you.”
John didn’t register the walk back to the temporary quarters he and the kids shared. For a moment, no one inside noticed that he’d come in, and he stood there, just watching them.
Liabet, sitting at the kitchen table, was insisting that Rodney braid her hair “just like Anne of Green Gables”, while Rodney, armed with a hairbrush, grumbled about ever introducing her to the character, “even if she is a Canadian hero”. Tilton was sprawled on the floor arranging the wooden blocks that Jeannie had sent, narrating his process to baby Malin, sitting in the springy baby seat from Lorne’s sister. Teyla sat cross-legged beside them, asking short questions every now and then. In the kitchenet, Ronon was heating a bottle of formula, with Torren on his shoulders, while Kanaan sliced vegetables for everyone else’s dinner.
The kids were leaving.
He’d known that, had been planning on that from the beginning, but now it seemed so much more real. The flash drive in his hand held the information about families on earth who were prepared to take them. John was sure the SGC had done their homework, that the families were good people, with good homes, who would send them to good schools.
But if it had been hard enough for John to go back to life on earth after only a year in the Pegasus Galaxy, how much harder would it be for Liabet and Tilton? No family on earth could understand their fear of the Wraith, nowhere but Atlantis would have the familiar hum of Ancient technology all around them.
Tilton looked up and saw him in the doorway. “Uncle John!” he cried, scrabbling to his feet.
John shoved the flash drive into his pocket and bent to catch the boy, grinning.
“Hey, buddy,” he said. “What’s for dinner?”
“So, what did Woolsey want?” asked Rodney, as they finished cleaning up from dinner, the kids out of earshot in their bedroom.
John held up the flash drive. “The SGC found some foster families.”
“Oh,” said Rodney.
“I haven’t looked at it,” John said. “And I’m not going to.”
“Um, okay,” said Rodney.
“These kids deserve a home where they’re understood, not where they have to pretend they weren’t born ten thousand years ago in another galaxy.” He took a deep breath. “I’m keeping them.”
“Okay,” repeated Rodney.
John frowned. “Okay?”
“Okay. I… I’ll have to look for different quarters.”
The way Rodney said it, so absently, made something in John’s chest ache, but it wasn’t entirely unexpected. He and Rodney had been dating for barely a month and adding three kids was just too much complication.
“Yeah,” said John, managing to keep his voice steady. “That’s probably for the best.”
“And, really, we should start reallocating more space anyway,” Rodney continued. “The city is expanding, we need more living quarters, in general. And we specifically should really have four bedrooms – the girls could share, of course, but I was reading somewhere that it’s important for each kid to have their own separate space and… What?”
“I…” John began, weakly. “You…”
Rodney narrowed his eyes. “You thought this would be it for us. You thought I’d leave you because you decided to keep these kids.”
“I – Not like that,” John protested. “This isn’t what you signed up for.”
“I signed up for you, Sheppard!” Rodney snapped. “All of you. And, no, I didn’t exactly plan on instantly becoming a father to a bunch of ten-thousand-year-old children, but here we are.”
“We?” John repeated.
“Yes, idiot, we. You and me and Liabet and Tilton and Malin. We.”
“Oh,” said John.
“So,” said Rodney. “Four bedrooms, living room, kitchen – that’s not as important, it’s not like either of us will be cooking much, but –”
He broke off as John seized the front of his jacket and hauled him in for a fierce kiss.
“I love you,” John said, fervently.
“Idiot,” repeated Rodney, with deep affection.
Behind them, the door opened. “Uncle Rodney,” said Liabet. “You said you would braid my hair.”
“He will,” said John. “But first, we have some news.”
Her eyes widened. “Are you two getting married?”
“What!?” said John. “No! I mean, not never. Just not right – How do you even know we’re dating.”
“Duh,” said Liabet, and John huffed a laugh.
“What’s the news?” asked Tilton.
John crouched to be on their eye level. “Do you remember how I said that the SGC was looking for a family on earth for you to go and live with?”
“Yes…” Liabet said, warily.
“Well, Mr. Woolsey just gave me the information on the families they’ve found, and if you wanted, you could go and live on earth. Or…” John took a deep breath. “Or, you could stay here on Atlantis and live with me and Rodney.”
“We can stay?” breathed Liabet.
“With you?” Tilton added.
“With us,” agreed Rodney.
Both children let out exited squeals and launched themselves at John – he would have toppled over if Rodney hadn’t caught him.
“Is that a yes?” John laughed.
“Yes!” said Liabet.
“Happy birthday, dear Malin,” John sang along with everyone else, as Rodney put the cake on the table in front of the one-year-old. “Happy birthday to you!”
Liabet and Tilton leaned in on either side to blow out the candles. Malin laughed and reached for a handful of frosting. John laughed, too, and slid the cake back so he could slice it. Once the pieces had been handed around, he sidled up to Rodney, holding out his plate.
“She’s going to need a bath tonight,” Rodney said, taking his piece of cake. “How did she even get that much frosting in her hair?”
“It’s a talent.” John bumped his shoulder. “Regretting that you signed on to this crazy family?” he asked.
“Never,” Rodney said fiercely. “In fact, we should talk about having another party.”
John frowned. “Nobody’s birthday is coming up.”
“No. But… maybe you’d be interested in a wedding reception.”
“Just the reception?” John teased.
“After a brief ceremony,” said Rodney. “How does that sound?”
“Perfect,” said John, and kissed him.