Atlantis, Lantea, eight years after the war ends -
The worst part is, they all look like him. In the hallways, in the nursery, in the schoolrooms and the mess hall, the children are scrawny, pointy-eared, pointy-chinned, with messy brown hair and green-brown eyes. They even talk a little like him, in their light, high children's voices; there is a drawl to their words, and a smooth quickness to their movements. Rodney watches two of the children sitting on the balcony outside the school lab, disassembling one of the old tablet computers with a set of tiny screwdrivers and a magnifying glass. He sees the tilt of their heads, their casual preteen slouch over the materials. He sees the way the city's force field curves protectively around the balcony, ready to catch them if they fall. He watches them work for a moment, and then he goes back to his own lab, and yells at Radek and makes one of the assistants cry. Then he goes to the whiteboard and writes out the equations for the power consumption of the cloak on a jumper, longhand, over and over, until he feels better.
So, they won the war. He wakes up hearing the dull thud of energy weapons against the city shield in the night; it is only the throb of the air conditioning, and he rolls onto his back, counts slowly backwards through the primes, and tries to sleep again. They won the war, and the military let Atlantis go, let the Athosians claim Lantea and the scientists claim the city. Of course, there had been a price. We can't leave the Gate to Earth undefended, they'd said. The therapy is a stopgap. The only true ATA carrier is dead in battle. How can you possibly keep the Gate safe without the gene?
They - the Armed Services, Rodney figures, or Stargate Command, or a government office with an inscrutable acronym - asked for colonists to volunteer to bear children with the ATA gene. They hadn't mentioned whose ATA gene. They didn't mention that they were going to throw in the whole gamete for free.
Rodney wonders, quite frequently, how it happened. Was it standard military procedure? Had they asked the good Colonel to do his duty with a specimen cup, or had they reconstructed his DNA from some other sample, drawn blood, preserved hair? Had Sheppard ever known what they had planned if he didn't come back?
The first children were born seven years ago. All but three of them tested positive for ATA. Rodney is never sure how much the original volunteers knew. At first, people commented that the babies looked like each other. Later, people stopped commenting. It was hard not to see John in them, but Rodney had tried. He had tried not to know, and he had failed, and he had been furious. Many people had been angry, but quietly. Within the bounds - Rodney thinks sarcastically - of good taste. He was sure then that the program would end immediately. The number of volunteers dropped; some scientists moved to the mainland, away from the Ancient city and the stolen Ancient gene. But, every year, a few more ATA babies are born. There are probably forty or fifty of them, running around Atlantis, getting into everything, getting in the way. People are accustomed to the idea now, and they are indulged - spoiled - by their father's city and by an aging team who is inclined to remember a certain lopsided grin more charitably as the years pass.
Rodney just barely tolerates them. They give him the heebie-jeebies; his skin crawls and his throat tightens and he has to turn and walk away. They are just children, and he can't blame them for their origins, but Rodney never liked children to start with - they are small and impulsive and often show sickeningly poor judgment - and it's unbearably eerie being surrounded by tiny Sheppards, like overactive, high-pitched ghosts.
They aren't the only children on Atlantis, of course. Normal human reproduction still works, he notes irritably, and marines and scientists have paired off left and right, reproducing at a modest replacement rate that Rodney nonetheless finds terrifying. And not all of the ATAs are in the city; as many are being raised as Athosians, coming to the city only on trade days, or for school during the long, fallow dry season. There are even orphans, the children of unlucky marines, living in a nursery run by a motherly Athosian woman down on the third level. Rodney knows that Radek and Ronan both spend time down there babysitting and helping the older kids with projects. He's caught Elizabeth before in a chair in the nursery, a Sheppard baby on her shoulder. "Great, John." he mutters as he passes in the hallway. He has never gotten out of the habit of talking to Sheppard, though he does it quietly, and tries not to let Heightmeyer catch him. "That's just fantastic. Even Ronon's having your babies. I don't know why I wasn't expecting it." Rodney is an old hand at dispersing real uneasiness through a constant, low-level stream of complaints, like letting water little by little out of a dam. John always listened to his ranting with amusement, especially when they were spurious. He tries not to calculate exactly when Sheppard became John in his head.
Rodney spends all day and half the nights in the labs, and eats in the mess after the children are asleep. He's finally given in to the nagging of the woman who replaced Carson - Carson, why doesn't Carson have dozens of posthumous babies running around? Surely Carson's bodily fluids, with their precious gene, are on file somewhere - and started going to the gym, though he does it at three in the morning, because he would have to kill anyone who sees him using an exercycle. He discovers, guiltily, that the good doctor is right. Thirty minutes of indignity means his blood sugar stays even and he feels a little better at the end of the day. He towels his hair dry in front of the mirror in the locker room - a job that takes less time than it used to - and examines his face under the flat, bright lights. Maybe he's a little wrinkled around the eyes, and his stubble comes in gray in patches. But he still wakes up at four in the morning with equations running bright from his brain to his fingertips, waiting for paper. He still thinks faster and harder and better than anyone else, which makes him not just important but necessary. He tells himself that that it’s enough when his bones ache in the first damp air of storms over the city. He tells himself that that it’s enough when he wakes up at two in the morning and lies in the dark, heart stuttering, hearing the low distant thud of energy weapons against the shield in the innocuous hum of the air conditioning. That is another reason he comes to the gym at three in the morning; he lurches awake, bitter with adrenaline, in the cold dark, and he can't go back to sleep.
It's better now. It is better, he tells himself determinedly. The city is bright and open and alive, and it belongs to the Atlanteans and to the children. Rodney can feel pleased about that even as he avoids them as best he can, because his work comes first and he doesn't like children and no matter how used he gets to the idea their hazel eyes and drawling voices make his chest hurt.
Laura Cadman lives in an apartment one floor up and two halls over from Rodney. She has slumped gracefully into her thirties, trading the jogging - hard on the knees, she says - for yoga and the all-salad meal plan for stroganoff and fajita night in the cafeteria. She is strong, a good shot, still mean as hell, but her chin has gone round and her waist has gone convex. Her hair is sensible and short.
When Rodney crosses paths with her - after several years of instinctual avoidance - attraction hits him like gravity gone wrong. She smiles at him, sideways. Laura Cadman is, he imagines, used to putting that gobsmacked look on people's faces. It has been years since he's felt gobsmacked, though. It's been years since he felt anything but tired.
He doesn't know exactly how he ends up flat on his back in her bed, his feet dangling over the precipice at the edge, Laura's strong, round hands careful on his body, her hair faded and bright in the sunlight off the ocean. He barely has the presence of mind to get one hand between them, and the other hand to her cheek, to the curve of the mouth that she presses against his palm as she comes, and then as the world whites out he feels his whole face turn grateful.
"I'm going to have a baby," she says, some months later. They are lying in his bed, the force field dropped to let in the wind from the ocean.
He sits bolt upright, his hands reflexively clutching the sheet to his waist. She turns over, sees his face, and smiles.
"Relax. It's not yours," she says, sitting up, her breasts low and heavy over the curve of her stomach, her hair mussed, her mouth wet. God, Laura Cadman is a beautiful woman, he thinks, and then, registering her words, he thinks, what?
Giving him a moment to think is a mistake on her part. "You aren't!" he says, scrabbling backwards, the sheet tightening in his hands. "Not you too!"
She sighs and turns, toeing her BDUs up from the floor. Part of his mind reels, while another part watches in simple disappointment as she combs her fingers through her hair and buttons up her shirt. Shoes will be next, and then she'll be gone again. He is aware that he is not the most sensitive of individuals, when it comes to interpersonal matters, but he can at least recognize certain universal laws. Laura's shoes on Laura’s feet equal Laura walking out, usually because of what she insists is calling him on his bullshit and he maintains is her bowing to his superior logic. There are reasons they haven't moved in together, and those reasons will remain constant, parallel to the arrow of time. He has no illusions about that.
"I'm not getting any younger, Rodney," she says, rooting through in the mess on the floor, finding one sock but not the other. "And you're not going to make an honest woman of me - which would be a complete trainwreck - and, you know, I want a baby, and there are babies on offer." She sits down in his desk chair to put her socks on, infuriatingly casual. "So I made the appointment."
Rodney feels like his heart is stopping, again. Again, again. "When?" he grates out, voice shaky, but she looks up at him and pauses, one hand in the laces of her shoes.
"You'd try to stop me, wouldn't you?" she says, her voice strange. "I never figured you for the controlling type, Rodney. At least not of people." Her face is shuttered. It is also, Rodney realizes, sad, and some uncomfortably perceptive part of him wrenches.
He should go to Heightmeyer. He knows this. He is not entirely without self-awareness, whatever the general population and his personnel files might say. He should, but instead he stomps around the lab until Radek kicks him out and then he nearly blows up a puddlejumper control panel right before he finds a way to double the underwater shield life by varying the ionization. It's been years since puddlejumpers made him think of Colonel Sheppard, but it's right here today, like John's body left the driver's seat warm, like he's electrifying the air around the control panels.
He hasn't talked to John much in the last few months, or only silently, his mouth forming the words in the middle of the night. So when he slams the panel shut, snapping, "Goddamn you, Sheppard, knocking up my girlfriend from beyond the grave," he's startled to feel how thoroughly he imagines John there, how he can feel imaginary- John jump at the noise, retreat from Rodney's irritation. Always withdrawing, that was John Sheppard, sure enough. He feels like if he turns, he'll see him, laconic, trying to conceal the hurt in his eyes. Still thirty-five years old. He slams the panel cover shut and gathers his tools, stomping out of the jumper bay. He takes a very complicated route home that avoids the school, the nursery, and the family quarters.
Laura Cadman has never been at all afraid of him - brains and brawn win out over just brains, he knows that - and so it only takes a day or two for a full-blown shouting match to erupt between them, luckily in his quarters, where the gossip will be limited to the people who happen to be walking by in the halls. When they're not actually fighting, he quite admires her style. She's a munitions expert. She knows what hits home. She calls him an emotionally-stunted agent of the patriarchy; it doesn't bother him, so it must not be true. It isn't his country turning Atlantis into an ATA breeding camp, so she can't call him unpatriotic. He accuses her of helping to create a Pegasus-dominating master race, and violating John Sheppard's rights from beyond the grave, but it's when she says, dirt-calm, worn out, "If what you want to do is forget him, I don't know why you stayed here," that he flinches, and that's the end of it. Either she feels bad, or she's won, or she feels bad for having won; he's already lobbed all his ready insults, but she's silent after her last attack. He feels his body start to sag, and she leaves quietly.
It wasn't that good a shot, he tells himself, lying on the bed. The sun has started to set and his room is all blue shadow. He's tired, so tired, and everyone will have gone home from the lab now anyway. He shivers a little in the cold from the vents but doesn't bother to turn down the air conditioning; he can't seem to move at all. It's just that, right now, he's tired. He imagines her coming back, saying, I had no right to question your loyalty to John. She would never call him John. Rodney never called him John, not to his face, not while he was alive. He imagines leaving. The wormhole still opens to Earth twice a year for news and medical supplies. It will open again in five weeks. He thinks about going back to Earth, working at some podunk State U, learning to drive a car and buy groceries, wearing colors besides blue and tan and black, forgetting how to read Ancient. Every time he imagines himself on Earth, he's in Colorado Springs, or McMurdo, or living near an air force base somewhere on the East Coast with the planes rattling his windows five hundred times a day. He always imagines himself somewhere John Sheppard has been.
It is cold, and dark, but he doesn't get up, or get under the covers, and finally he falls asleep. In the night he feels a thin warmth, like a cat denting the mattress, like another heart beating next to his. When he wakes in the morning, teeth chattering, back stiff, the covers are undisturbed around him, and the door hasn't been opened.
He waits another eight or nine hours before he goes to her quarters, and he actually has the temerity to bring her flowers. They're from the hydroponics lab, and he has to bring them back, in their pot, as soon as he's done with them.
He apologizes. She's clearly never seen him apologize to anyone over anything, and it's only when he's sitting in her most comfortable chair with her blanket around his shoulders and a mug of tea in his hands that he realizes that it really might be a sign that he's cracking. "I mean what I said about the government conspiracy," he adds, blowing on the tea, and she folds her arms, too worried to take umbrage. Then he is silent, which makes her face turn pinched again. She looks like she's about five minutes away from taking his temperature.
"I went to the infirmary today," she finally says.
He looks at her.
"It'll be a week or two before they know if it took."
There is a moment of silence.
"Look, Rodney. It's my kid too. You know that, right?"
The steam is curling off the surface of the tea and he takes a sip even though it burns his mouth. He can hear the hiss of the ventilation, not at all like the thud of weapons, not at all like the whine of darts. She has the force field low enough that he can hear the ocean. She's changed quarters sometime in the last ten years, and these are cluttered, lived-in, settled, with books on the shelves and rugs on the floor. She still has the picture of her parents by her bed, though. He wonders if they're still living, and if they'll find out about their grandchild. He wonders when he started to think about things like that.
"Look." he says, setting the mug down. "It's not that I'm in favor of this plan, because I am not. I don't like it. I cannot even begin to speculate on the poor planning involved in having hundreds of little ATA carriers running around like emotionally immature, technology-activating chimpanzees, and I'm sure the moral and political implications are incomprehensibly unfortunate. Leaving aside, for the moment, the immense emotional and physical upheaval that gestation and delivery inflicts on the female body, which is something I don't understand why you would ever, ever, ever want to go through. But you're determined to do it, and your half of the genetic contribution isn't entirely unfortunate, and I'm also not willing to start in with the implications of saying that you aren't capable of making moral decisions about your own body. So. That said. Congratulations."
A smile is beginning to quirk her mouth.
"And also." He looks down into his mug. "You know exactly how useless I am with children and with people in general and I would not be my own first choice for the whole supportive friend thing. But. Taking that into account - I'm, you know. Here for you. And all that."
He tries not to take it personally when she laughs so hard she bends at the middle, but then she stands up and takes the mug out of his hands and moves his hands to her hips, puts her fingers in his spiky pattern-bald hair. She has always been gentle with him, but this is the first time he feels like he should be gentle with her, like he should feel protective towards someone who could kill him ten ways with her bare hands. He draws his mouth down across the round of her belly, feeling her breath, her heart beating under his fingers, and he thinks: so, having a kid. It can't be that bad.
Laura Charin Cadman is born on the twelfth day of the second month of the tenth year of the Atlantis Colony, at about three in the morning.
"You named her after yourself, how generous,” Rodney says, his entire body curled protectively around Laura Senior as he sits on the edge of her infirmary bed
"I could have named her Meredith," Cadman replies, but there is no real force in her words as she stares, exhausted, delighted, at her wrinkled, slimy, red-faced daughter. It's just a baby, Rodney reminds himself. Just a baby, exactly like any other baby, except that she's Laura's, and Laura's alone. When Laura hands him the little squirming bundle he is surprised at his lack of unease, at how she fits into the crook of his elbow. Her eyes are blurry and blue. They focus on him, and something he has never put a name to changes, small and easy as exhaling.
Teyla comes to the naming ceremony, which is held out on the balcony, where all the Athosian receptions are held. She has one child in hand and another in a sling across her back, and there is gray starting in her hair. Wherever she goes, now, she's in a crowd of Athosians, but she catches Rodney aside to embrace him, Earth-style, formally, before going to give her gifts to mother and baby.
"It is a good thing you do." she murmurs in his ear. "I hope you are very happy." When Laura tells Teyla the names she's chosen, tears spring to her eyes. From then on, everyone calls the baby Charin.
Charin's eyes are very blue, and her hair stays pale as she grows bigger; this is a relief to Rodney. He still worries about the ATA bearers constantly, but his worries have shifted their orbit and formed a solar system of anxiety with Charin at the middle. He worries now about Pegasus politics, about kidnappings, about diplomatic marriages. Some of the ATAs among the Athosians are already engaged to people they've never met in other settlements. It might be culturally appropriate, it might be genetically advantageous, but that doesn't mean he has to like it. Laura agrees; it might be safest if no one takes Charin for a Sheppard at first glance. But, it's there if you look for it, in the shape of her face, and she is perfectly capable of making the lights flash or the emergency klaxon go off when she's unhappy. He lives with it.
He and Laura never move in together, and they formally break up when Charin is about eighteen months old. By that point, though, Charin is so used to him that everyone agrees he should keep coming around. He's surprised at how much she takes to him, and finds her an engaging audience for his more eccentric cosmological ramblings. He's never really minded getting up at two in the morning and going upstairs because Charin is making the hall's water go on and off and Laura has radioed him with misery in her voice. He walks with her out on the balcony, addressing his lectures on the curvature of space time and the basic incompatibility of Earth cacao and Athosian soil to the baby's tiny, fuzzy head. Many nights she falls asleep on his shoulder, lulled by his muttered monologues, which he's learned to deliver softly, like nursery rhymes. Sometimes he sits on the bench on the balcony in the still summer air, after she falls asleep, just feeling her warm and heavy against his shoulder. He wonders if this warm, stuttering feeling in his chest is something he should see a cardiologist about.
He still talks to John, but what he says is different now, even after Cadman finally snaps and takes back her spare toothbrush and tells him never again. It’s something he's been expecting for some time now - ever since the toothbrush first appeared in his bathroom, to be honest, because really - Laura Cadman. But she's a good mother, he'll give her that, and he says so when they meet in the cautious demilitarized zone between their quarters, where she hands over a sleepy toddler and a diaper bag with a series of stern admonitions about childproofing.
He sets up the spare crib in an alcove in his quarters. He doesn't mind the lack of privacy. Seeing Laura naked on a regular basis for a year and a half was much more luck than he'd expected from his fourth decade and he will be completely unsurprised if the next bout of good fortune is well into his fifth. He tells John this, especially when it's Laura's night to have Charin and he lays in the dark alone. He's a little mopey, maybe, but basically content. "She looks like you," he says into the air, "but not the way I expected. Her eyes are Laura's, and she doesn't have the elf-ears, but I think she's built like you. She might have your feet." He turns over, cheek into the pillow, meditatively. "I never saw your feet that often." He imagines that he feels the air around him turn amused, and he thumps the pillow. "I didn't want to see your feet, Major. Colonel. I'm just interested in which of the less-important of your genes you've bequeathed to our daughter." He hears the words, and adds, "My and Laura's daughter. It would be nice if you were here to teach her your bad habits, but you're not, so she'll have to make do with mine."
Charin is three when it happens. He feels almost like he's been waiting for it, ever since Laura went off maternity leave and back off-world. It isn't anyone's fault, just a goddamn stupid accident, and he walks into Heightmeyer's office and puts his head down on his knees and stays there for the next eight hours, sobbing into the chair like his body is trying to shudder itself into pieces.
Heightmeyer finally calls Ronon, of all people, who sits with him, arms around his shoulders, as he sits awake all night wishing the time machine had been built, wishing he could get back, make it unhappen, go back to living two floors apart and fighting because he knew Laura, he knew her and she knew him, and he feels like part of his body is bleeding out into the soil of PX-5871. It was quick, Elizabeth says, her hands on his face, and he sees in her eyes that her heart is breaking too, that it gets no easier for any of them. He remembers when John went missing after the last battle. It had been horrible, it had been like trying to breathe underwater, for months, for years, but this is a different pain, unexpected, and total. Laura had left Charin in the nursery overnight, because she was off-world and Rodney was supposed to be on call in the lab for some work involving the hybrid ZPMs. When Rodney wakes up, the first thing that seizes him is that he hasn't gone to Charin, that she doesn't know.
They stand together at her graveside, the physicist and the little girl. Laura had asked to be buried on the mainland, in the town's graveyard. Rodney had never understood before exactly how Atlantean she had become, to ask to stay here, even in the end. Ronon and Teyla stand with him, and Radek, and the Marines all around him, but the only thing Rodney feels is Charin's hand in his. The air around him is empty, the faces shuttered. He has always told himself it's the fate of geniuses to live alone with their thoughts, but he's never felt as alone as this.
"We have to talk about Charin," Elizabeth says over her desk. It has been three weeks. Rodney started sleeping in Cadman's quarters the third night, so that Charin could sleep in her own bed with her own toys and her mother's things around her. He has spent most of his days sitting in the corner of the daycare working on his tablet, trying not to check on her every thirty seconds. Even now, he's only left her in the daycare alone because Ronon is with her. He knows that it would be better for Charin if he let her carry on normally. He's trying.
"I've been talking to Heightmeyer," Rodney replies, defensive. "I have pamphlets about the stages of grief in children. I even read them." All of them, several times over, and then threw them across the room.
Elizabeth folds her hands. Her hair is mostly gray now, and her face is lined. "It's not that. Rodney, I'm sorry, this is a terrible time for it, but there are some things you should know about Charin's legal custody."
It is clear from her tone that she doesn't just mean signing some papers. "What?" He feels the blood drain out of his face. "What do you mean? Did Laura name someone else?"
"No, her wishes were very clear." Elizabeth looks down at her hands, and Rodney realizes she's trying not to meet his eyes. "Rodney, if I'd known you'd get involved, I would have told you this a long time ago."
"What is it?" He feels the starting edge of fear; his mouth goes bitter.
She sighs. "It isn't that you aren't Charin's legal guardian. We could get around that." She is meeting his eyes now; her face is diplomatic, sympathetic, blank. "It's that as an ATA carrier conceived in Atlantis, she is, and always has been, in the custody of the U.S. military."
Rodney is on his feet. "What?" he shouts.
"I'm sorry. You should have known years ago. All the ATA parents were told." She is grave, unmoved by his anger. Rodney sees suddenly the shadows under her eyes, the web of wrinkles around her mouth. He sees her in the clarity of panic.
"The government has rights over Charin," he replies flatly, unbelieving. "They could call her back to Earth, shut her up in Area 51, and I'd never see her again."
Elizabeth reaches a hand towards him. "You need to be calm. That's not going to happen."
"It could!" Rodney can feel his face reddening. His voice shakes a little. "It isn't bad enough that they make an orphan of her, she'll go back to Earth to be their lab rat? What would they even do with her? Breeding programs? Technology experiments? Raise her in a lab somewhere in Nevada?"
"Rodney!" Elizabeth's voice cuts across his panic like a slap. He stares at her. "I won't let that happen." She looks back at the papers on her desk. "I am the liaison between Atlantis and Earth," she continues, "And Earth has been quite reasonable about this. Eight times before I've argued that these children are best served by staying on Atlantis, and I've won every time. Charin is staying here." She has risen out of her seat as she says this, and she straightens her jacket and folds her arms, challenging.
"What if you don't win?" Rodney says, feeling all the emotional bruises of the last two weeks rising again on his face.
Elizabeth turns towards the window, turns back towards him. "Rodney." The door shuts. "If that happens, and you want to fight it, we will block the gate. We will disable the gate. And then we'll see if the Asgard will let Earth use their ship to come kidnap a baby from its home." The corners of her mouth quirk up in something nothing like a smile. "I've planned that out eight times, Rodney. It hasn't happened yet. But you have to know." Her gaze is sharp. "Whether you raise Charin yourself or not, you have to know."
There is a miserable silence, and then he nods. He rises, clumsily, and turns to leave. He wants badly to be out of this office, heavy with plans and politics, to go see his daughter, go be a small man mourning his own losses. Then he turns back.
"Elizabeth." She meets his eyes. "Why did you let them do this? Not just -" he waves his hands around his face - "this, but all of it. With the genes. I think I deserve for you to tell me."
The sun is setting behind her, now, and she has only half-turned to look at him. "Are you sure you want to hear it?"
She turns away again. "I worked in international politics for fifteen years, Rodney. I worked at the U.N. during some of the bloodiest years in Earth's history."
He is silent. He knows this part.
"I love this galaxy." She is looking towards the mainland, he realizes; in her mind, she's probably looking much further than that. "I love this city. And I've seen what that gene can do."
"It can make machines work, Elizabeth," he says. "It's a random mutation, nothing more."
"The ATA gene is a weapon," she replies, without changing her tone. "Combined with Ancient technology it is the most potent weapon known to humankind, and the United States military has it. Believe me, Rodney. No matter what they say about the ATA program, somewhere on the other side of that gate they are creating more children with the gene. Why do you think Carson destroyed all the materials in his file? He knew what an ATA carrier could do. He didn't want to become part of a weapon."
"And it's okay if John does." Rodney's voice cracks shamefully. "It's okay if his children are weapons. You didn't even ask him."
Elizabeth turns. It is dark now; her face is dark, haloed in orange. He can't make out her expression. "Colonel Sheppard was a soldier," she says. "And he loved this city. When Stargate Command suggested it, I had to make the decision. I'm not claiming it was right."
"And when they come through that gate some day -"
The evening lights have started to come up, and he can see when she smiles. It is not a nice smile. "Rodney, in twenty years, they can send whatever the hell they want through that gate. It won't matter. We'll be ready."
He stands shakily, and walks out.
He doesn't think about what Elizabeth has said. That's the only way to go on with it, he realized years ago, in those first suffocating months after they lost John. It galls his sense of intellectual integrity, but he forces himself. He sits with Charin, and reads to her, and goes to the lab, and he is so subdued that Radek hovers, worried.
Rodney goes out and walks on the pier in the wind. "I shouldn't talk to you," he says into the air. "I don't talk to Laura, and she's gone, too." It has been a month and a half now. When John's jumper went down, Rodney was holding his crazy conversations within the week. "I don't know what to do." He leans against a pylon, scrubbing his face with his hands. "I didn't sign up for this, John. I don't think that I can do it. Maybe she should go back to Earth. I have no way of knowing she won't be better off there. I don't know if Elizabeth's right. I don't know if Elizabeth's crazy."
Suddenly he feels it, that change in pressure that he imagines as John listening to him. As John listening to him, and the air around him chiming with no, no, no.
"Why, John?" He has forgotten, a long time ago, to feel crazy over these conversations, but it occurs to him again, sharply. "I... I love her, yes, but how is that enough? I don't even like children. I don't even like your children. And I liked you alright." He hears anger in his voice, but he is just so tired again. He learned during the war that grief feels like exhaustion. It feels like never wanting to get up again. But here it is, the reason he is here talking to the air and the city and his dead friend, because he feels that warmth growing along his back, that sense of presence, that sense that there is a hand on his shoulder. He closes his eyes, leans into it. Feels John, for a moment, like a warm wind against his face. You can do this, he understands suddenly from the sound of the wind in the dusk on the ocean. You can do this. For me, you'll do this.
He starts in on the project of forcing life back to normal. He avoids Elizabeth. He gets Charin up in the morning, and puts her shoes and socks on and makes her brush her teeth, and takes her to the nursery, then goes to his lab and works. He works as well as he ever has; it's walking and talking and breathing that exhaust him. He is more paranoid than he used to be; every communication from Earth makes him jumpy. But the fear passes with the mourning, slowly. It has been a year when he discovers that he can look at Elizabeth in the hall again. It is around the same time that he realizes that all of his possessions have migrated into Laura's apartment, and that he can run his hand over her books, start to give away her clothes, without his heart going still in his chest.
Charin gets older fast, too fast. She takes her first steps in the lab, a little late, lurching after Radek as he rolls his desk chair from work-station to work-station. No one who hears the story will believe Rodney when he insists he only set her down for a second, and it wasn't the lab with the dangerous materials in it, and what do they take him for, anyway? Miko puts up a baby fence in the corner, which Charin climbs readily. She goes from the nursery to the preschool in the north tower. She starts real school down the hall from their apartment.
Suddenly, he is middle-aged in earnest. Without noticing, he's become someone who meets with teachers and nags about homework and falls asleep on the couch at two in the afternoon with a book on his face. He talks to Radek, and Charin. He talks to his memory of John. He works, and is content, and then, some days, he is happy.
Category: AUish, Futurefic, Kidfic, Het, Slash.
Warnings: Het, R, Character death(s). Most massive kidfic ever. Reproductive politics. Angst. Spoilers through 3x19.
Pairing: McKay/Cadman, McKay/Sheppard (implied)
Length: 14,500 words, 71 k.
Summary: In free Lantea, eight years after the war ends, all the children look like John Sheppard.
Thanks to my betas rilestar, celtic_tigress, and caffieninni. Rilestar wrestled the Grammar Demon and asked questions that turned the whole plot on its head, CelticTigress made me take a deep breath and add some line breaks, and Caffieninni offered up little koans like "the present tense is the bleakest, isn't it?" and endured months of McShep talk. God bless you people. All remaining errors are my own.