The Sound of Science

The sunlight gently creeps up the slopes of the luscious green hills, chasing away the last shadows. Butterflies fly from flower to flower, while all around, birds burst out in song. In the deepest parts of the brook, ducks dive down in pursuit of the small silver fish gliding through the water. And then, just over the nearest hill, a deep baritone voice begins to sing:

"The hiiiiiiiiiiiiiills are alive with the sound of music--"

"Carson, will you shut up already!" another voice interrupts, annoyance seeping in with every word, "You've been singing that horrible song for two days now and I'm sick of it. I'm tired, my feet are achy and these beautiful hills of yours are aggravating every single allergy in my body. The only sound I hear is that of buzzing insects, waiting to strike. I hate these hills with a passion. I despise them so much that I wouldn't think twice about blowing them up. There are truly no word to describe how much I loathe these stupid bumps of green--"

"You wouldn't say," Carson dryly answers, while his companion rants on without even taking a breath.

"Seriously, they couldn't have just built the abbey in a city somewhere. No, they had to pick a place smack in the middle of the Atlantic Alps."

"Well, brother Rodney, I've always suspected this, but I think it's safe to say that -after two days of travelling with you- you are no fun whatsoever," Carson finally manages to bring in.

"Oh yes. And entertaining you is the grand goal in my life. Now that I have failed you I shall perish and die. I'm a monk Carson, I'm not supposed to have any fun," Rodney replies, swatting at a bee that's persistently buzzing around his head.

"Actually, you're not a monk yet," Carson reminds him.

"Semantics, semantics. I've got a feeling that it won't be long now. I've impressed the Reverend Father with my many talents lately and I think this is it. I'm convinced he'll announce my full entry into the order very soon now," Rodney smugly says.

"Rodney, the Reverend Father is not going to judge you on your talent to build a bomb or another one of those strange contraptions of yours. The point is that you're not supposed to show off your many talents. You're supposed to be humble and respectful towards others. Those are the greatest talents of 'em all. Both of which you don't possess!" Carson yells in frustration.

"Oh please, I can be humble and respectful," Rodney huffs.

"Rodney, for the Ancients' sake, you practically told one of the priests from the Athosian village that he's nothing more than a hack and a fraud," Carson brings in.

"Well he is!" Rodney yells indignantly, waving his arms around in wide circles to emphasize his argument, "He is totally brainwashing those villagers by feeding them stupid tales of scary demons who steal your soul. You and I both know that the Wraith are not demons at all. They're as real as you and me and are no longer a threat since they were defeated during the Fourth War. I fail to see where sacrificing chickens on an altar made of cow dung is necessary in this scenario? So give me a break."

"That's not the issue here Rodney," Carson says exasperated, lowering his voice, "Who are we to interfere with their ways of worship?"

"Worship? I'm sorry, but I draw the line at eating animals slaughtered in the most unsanitary conditions. Do you have any idea what germs could be hiding in that dung? Not to mention--" Rodney begins, before Carson bursts out into song once again, "I go to the hills when my heart is lonelyyyyyyyy. I know I will hear what I've heard befoooore--".

"Oh for the love of-CARSON!" Rodney yells out, but it's no use as Carson starts singing a little louder and briskly starts walking ahead, successfully ignoring Rodney and his incessant whining for the rest of their walk home.

~*~

"Reverend Father?" brother Carson tentatively says as he enters Abbot Caldwell's quarters, "You sent for me?"

"Yes, I did," the Abbot says and motions Carson inside, "Welcome back, Carson."

"Thank you Father," Carson respectfully says, bowing towards the Abbot.

Hesitantly, the Abbot starts speaking, "Carson, I requested your presence, because I need some advice on a matter of great delicacy."

"Ah, does this matter have anything to do with brother Rodney perhaps?" Carson asks.

"Yes indeed, Carson. You know me all too well," Father Caldwell says, pausing briefly before he continues, "Do you remember when I talked to you about why I wanted Rodney to accompany you to the Athosian settlement?"

"Aye, you wanted him to meet the humble and proud Athosian people in the hope that he'd pick up on some of their many humble talents. But I'm afraid that I bring you bad news, Father."

"What do you mean, Carson?" the Abbot says, placing his hands down on the desk, fingers splayed wide open as if bracing himself for impact.

"Well, let's just say that Rodney was quite-- adamant in his verbal response to the ancient old rituals of the Athosians. He did not agree with them in the slightest and made sure everyone in the village knew about it."

Slowly sinking down on his chair, Father Caldwell covers his face with both hands, "I'm almost afraid to ask, Carson--, but how bad is it?"

"Well, let's just say the Athosians will not be gracing us with any visits in the near future and I seriously doubt we're still welcome in the village."

"Oh, this is not good," the Abbot mutters, before looking up at Carson with pleading eyes, "What on earth am I supposed to do with Rodney?"

"I don't know Father. All I know is that he's not all that bad. He just has a-- very special and peculiar way of making his presence very much felt."

"I know that. Don't you think I know that? The man is brilliant and there are times when I catch a glimpse of something within him that makes me think that perhaps-- but oh Carson, he's also loud, opinionated, abrasive and the word 'humble' has no place in his vocabulary. He's by far one of the most intelligent souls in this great nation and he isn't shy or timid to remind us of that fact every day," the Abbot says, "Let's not forget how he keeps insulting all our friends and guests. He has no respect for anyone that doesn't share his viewpoints and most of all, he continuously forgets to do his chores in the abbey, always locked up in that shack of his, working on strange machines, doing the Ancients know what--" he pauses briefly before raising his eyes towards the heavens, a silent apology for swearing upon the name of the gods, "I've spoken with him a number of times over the last few weeks and it's obvious that, since he's already thirty-six years old, he's expecting to become a full member of this community very soon. I don't know how to tell him that he can't truly become one of us if he doesn't change his ways."

"Aye, he really thinks he's on the right path, Father. He's been going on and on about it all the way back from the village. But I've also had some time to think about it and perhaps--" Carson hesitates.

"Go on Carson," the Abbot says, "Perhaps what?"

"--perhaps it's time for a change?" Carson offers.

"A change? What kind of change?"

"Well, brother Rodney has been with us for a very long time now. As I understand it, he was only a wee child when he came to live here, at the abbey. So he has no memories or knowledge about life outside the abbey. He doesn't realise that people out there are leading full and fulfilling lives too, somewhat different than ours granted, but just as valuable. So maybe it's time to send him out there and let him see what it's like. If he can learn some humility and give up his pride and arrogance, he can choose to return to us and become a true monk in heart and soul, but -who knows- maybe there's something out there that can make him happier, and then a life outside the Abbey would be best for him."

"Yes, brother," the Abbot agrees, clearly pondering the merits of Carson's idea, "That does sound like a good idea, but in order for him to learn something valuable he needs a task to fulfil. Do you have such a task in mind for him?"

"Well, as it so happens-- an old friend of mine, Lieutenant-Colonel John Sheppard is in dire need of some assistance right now. He lost his wife, Teyla, about 3 and a half years ago and since then he's had a whole throng of nannies looking after his children, but none of them have ever stuck around long enough to actually make a difference in their education. It seems that these children are quite-- headstrong, if you know what I mean," Carson says, nodding his head slightly to emphasize his point, "So, now he's looking for a strong male hand to handle them and teach them some discipline."

"And you think Rodney would be the right man for this task?" Father Caldwell asks, doubt clouding his voice.

"He might be. Rodney has been known to scare children into submission before, so he could be just what the Colonel needs. And--," hesitating briefly, Carson continues, "--John has not been himself for a long time. Teyla was his life and ever since she died-- Well, let's just say John could use some help too."

"Yes, perhaps, but are we sure we want to burden this broken family with Rodney's-- pleasant character?"

"Who knows, Reverend Father. This might just be the best solution for both parties. It would solve two problems in one go."

"Hmm, children huh? Yes, I suppose you're right. Children might just be the key to soften Rodney up a bit," the Abbot says, smiling.

"Aye well, I wouldn't get too carried away Father. This is still Rodney we're talking about," Carson chuckles.

"Very true Carson," the Abbot says, "Well, it's settled then. You worry about contacting your friend to tell him we have found the perfect candidate and I'll take the task upon me to inform brother Rodney of my decision."

"Good luck with that, Father," Carson says, grinning wildly, as he turns around to go about his task.

"Thank you, Carson," the Abbot says, sighing deeply, "Something tells me that I'll need it."

~*~

"You want me to do what!?"

"Rodney--"

"No no no, this is not acceptable. This is not acceptable in any shape or form. I am a genius and I shall not-- I repeat-- shall not travel to some distant corner of the country to babysit a bunch of spoiled brats. Not in a thousand light-years and if you have any sense of space travel and the whole space-time continuum -which I highly doubt you do- you should know that this is a very very VERY long time," Rodney spits out furiously.

"Rodney!" the Abbot snaps, "I'm afraid you have no choice in the matter. If you refuse to take this task upon yourself, you'll never be a monk."

"Wh-What? Why not?" Rodney splutters, "You can't do this."

"I can and I will. As the Abbot of this monastery I'm responsible for all of my fellow brothers and I sense a great disturbance in you. You are not ready to become a monk as long as you hold on to your pride as some kind of a shield to protect you from real emotions. You're too stubborn, arrogant and annoying for your own good. So, either you go to the Sheppard household to care for those children or I'm afraid you'll have to find a new permanent place to reside."

"But-- that's blackmail, Father!," Rodney yells, "I grew up here. This is my home."

"Yes, I'm fully aware of that, but you keep making your brothers' lives very-- difficult and I have to think of the greater good here. I'm sorry."

"Fine," Rodney says, harshness bleeding from every clipped word, "I'll go and I'll show you that I'm fit to become a great monk. I'll show you all," he says, pointing at the Abbot, before walking out and slamming the door behind him.

"Oh, I hope you do, Rodney. I really hope you do," Father Caldwell mutters to the empty room as he slowly sinks down in his chair, "And may the Ancients be with you, my brother."

~*~

"I can't believe they're making me do this," Rodney mutters to himself as he's closing the heavy monastery doors behind him in the early morning, carrying only a small bag with some of his most basic belongings.

"Those ungrateful bastards. You keep giving and giving and how do they repay you? By sending you away. I should have seen this coming. Why didn't I see this coming and--," he trails off, fiercely shaking his head, "Wait a minute. Why didn't I see this coming? I mean, hello! Genius here. I bet that idiot Kavanaugh is having a field day right now. He has always wanted to get rid off me."

Without even one backward glance towards the old monastery, Rodney takes off towards the city of Atlantis. At the outskirts of that city, there's a gigantic mansion called Sanctuary and it's been the home of the noble Sheppard family for many centuries now. As he's briskly walking down the hill, he thinks back to his conversation with Carson the day before, right after he had left the Abbot's quarters. Carson had cornered him to confess that it had been his idea to send him to the Sheppard family in the first place.

"You did what? You ungrateful idiot! How could you do this? You're supposed to be my friend!" Rodney lashed out angrily.

"Rodney, I'm sorry, but it was either this or you being forced to leave and that made the choice so much easier. You know that you're a difficult man to like, but for some reason beyond my understanding, I do genuinely care and I'd hate to see you thrown out. So, for the Ancients sake man, just go to the Sheppards, make a good impression and wield some of that Rodney McKay magic I know in my heart you're capable of."

"Magic? Am I the happy fairy now?" Rodney sarcastically brought in.

"No, more like the annoying genie in the bottle," Carson said, grinning back at Rodney, which only fuelled Rodney's anger even more.

"Do you think this is funny, Carson? My future is a joke to you now?" he spat out.

"No Rodney, you're missing the point," Carson sighed. "Bottom line, you're a good person at heart, but also one of the most blunt people I've ever met. If anyone can get those children disciplined, it's you and maybe, while you're there, Colonel Sheppard might get some insight in the error of his ways. If anyone can let him see that his children need him, it's you, because you disregard all personal boundaries and have a tendency to just plow on, even when someone doesn't really want to hear what you're saying."

"I do not! I have you know that I'm a very sensitive person and I always pick up on people's moods before cunningly get them to talk about it."

"Rodney--" Carson said softly.

"What? Okay. I admit that I'm not exactly a people pleaser and that I might have been over-exaggerating a bit, but that still doesn't mean I don't know about subtlety or sensitivity," Rodney complained.

"Rodney, two weeks ago you yelled at brother Lorne, telling him he was the biggest imbecile ever," Carson said, exasperated.

"So? He deserved it. He used my plans for the revolutionary coffee-making machine to light a fire."

"Oh, for the love of all that is holy! Did you ever stop to consider that brother Lorne came to us ten years ago in a very fragile state after he had been abused and bullied by his own family for his entire life up until that moment? Or have you forgotten how he used to cower away whenever he did something he wasn't supposed to do? Don't you remember how he always expected to be hit because he forgot to do one of his chores? And then you barge into your makeshift lab, see him burning some unimportant documents-- oh, and don't even try to deny it Rodney," Carson snapped, when he saw how Rodney was gearing up for his own diatribe.

"You know as well as I do that those plans were of little to no meaning to you, otherwise you wouldn't have just left them lying around on your worktable. Anyway, brother Lorne just wanted to help you out and make you more comfortable by starting a nice warm fire and all you do is lash out at him, basically telling him he's no good whatsoever, calling him all sorts of rude names. The poor lad burst out into tears and refused to leave his room for an entire week!" Carson practically yelled before lowering his voice again, "This is not the behaviour of a monk, Rodney. A monk is humble and in tune with his fellow-man. If you can't learn that, you will never become one."

Disgruntled, but recognising a semblance of truth in Carson's words, Rodney asked:

"Well, If I'm supposed to baby-sit a bunch of short, drooling and diapered human beings I should at least know what situation I'm going to find myself in. So tell me about this Lieutenant-Colonel John Sheppard and his family."

And Carson proceeded to do just that.

It turned out that John Sheppard had met and fallen in love with an Athosian princess called Teyla Emmagen when he was only 18 years old. Both unwilling to wait until they were older, they eloped to get married. When their parents found out, there was hell to pay but it was already too late. The match had been made and there was no way out of it without an official divorce. As neither of the noble families could afford a scandal like that, they were allowed to stay together and Teyla moved into the family mansion Sanctuary with John and his parents.

Even though they had married young, John and Teyla continued to be very happy together and over the years they were blessed with 7 children, 6 biological and 1 adopted.

Year after year, John helped out more and more in his parents' business. Years ago, James and Charlotte Sheppard had started up a company called Shepships, producing a new kind of space ship they had invented, called a puddlejumper. It turned out that the need for a semi-large space ship with the first ever inertial dampeners was enormous as the company had been an instantaneous hit. The groundwork for the families' fortune had been laid. When John's parents both died in an accident a week after his twenty-seventh birthday, he and Teyla took over the business and made it even more successful than it already was.

When the Fourth War against the Wraith began, John was summoned to serve his fatherland. As he was a very good pilot, he joined the Air Force and spent three years of his life fighting for the freedom of all mankind, skipping through the ranks until he finally became Lieutenant-Colonel. When -finally- the Wraith were defeated at the last great battle in the Pegasus Galaxy, John was able to return home and resume his work at Shepships while he helped his wife raise their children.

Their happiness ended abruptly three and a half years ago, when Teyla went on a diplomatic mission for her people and never returned home again. Apparently, she was grabbed by some of the few surviving Wraith rebels and by the time they found her, she looked like a 100-year old shell of the young, proud woman she once was. She only lived for a few more minutes and her dying words were for John and their children: "Do not close off your hearts. Love again."

But, words are easier said than acted upon and John Sheppard fell into a deep depression. The once loving father now started acting distant and aloof towards his own children. Children who, in turn, started to misbehave more and more in order to get some attention from their father, even if it was the wrong kind, such as strict punishments and shouts.

Nanny after nanny got sent in. Some of them gentle and kind, others unyielding and strict. But none of them lasted longer than a month at Sanctuary. Every single one of them bullied and chased away by the children.

The eldest of the bunch, sixteen-year old Laura, is an accomplished musician. She has the voice of an angel, but also the tongue of a sailor as she isn't afraid to use the most rude language to scare off any potential new nanny.

The second eldest, fourteen-year old Ronon, is a gentle, but strong-willed boy who still misses his mother terribly, but is too proud to admit to it. He loves martial arts and over the years has won some important awards as he competed in several national competitions.

Twelve-year old Chaya is a bit of an enigma. She spends most of her time locked up in her room reading big existential works by great philosophers. She hardly ever talks unless she's asked a question. Her peculiar behaviour has been the cause of some concern from her private tutors, but so far none of them have been able to break through the carefully constructed shell she's built up around herself.

The next child in line is Aiden. He's the child of Teyla's sister and was born ten years ago. A month after childbirth, both his parents were killed by the Wraith, so Teyla and John decided to take in little Aiden as one of their own. He's a happy, carefree child who just loves to smile and try out his practical jokes on unsuspecting victims.

Eight-year old Peter is a mischievous little rascal. He constantly sticks his nose where it doesn't belong and therefore he spends a lot of time in his room, grounded. He loves taking apart every machine he can get his hands on, but the only problem is he is never quite able to put it together again just right. So, it isn't long before something blows up and little Peter finds himself in his room once again.

The second youngest is six-year old Samantha, Sam for short, and she has a head for Math. From the tender age of four she was already able to recognise most prime and non-prime numbers. Difficult mathematical questions are no big deal for her. She solves the most complicated equations with ease. Some say she inherited her genius from her father, but others seriously doubt that since Colonel Sheppard never showed any signs of having intimate knowledge of Math or other sciences.

Katie is the youngest and resembles her mother the most. She's four years old and she's constantly asking questions, her mouth always in movement as she questions the world around her. She's a fast thinker and excellent observer. In spite of her tender age she is often the one to diffuse hostile situations between her siblings as she does something silly at just the right time to make her sisters and brothers forget what they were fighting about.

"Okay, so I'm basically going to spend the next few months of my life in a freak show of socially retarded morons. Is that what you're trying to tell me, Carson?" Rodney snidely remarked after Carson had briefly sketched the family history.

"Well, Rodney-- seems to me you'll fit right in then," Carson replied. "Good luck to you and may the Ancients guide you on this journey and help you to make the right decisions," he added before turning around and walking away, leaving a disgruntled Rodney behind.

So now Rodney's on his way to Sanctuary himself. Carson sent a message to the Colonel yesterday, informing him they were sending one of the novices to become the new caretaker of the children and explaining that maybe all the kids really needed were a few ground rules and some patient guidance. He had carefully avoided the fact that the novice in question was actually a thirty-six year old genius who desperately needed the job in order to become a monk.

Snorting softly, Rodney realises that the Colonel is in for a surprise because if there's one thing Rodney doesn't possess it's patience with children. Ah well, it's just a path to get to where he wants to be so all he has to do is behave for a few months and re-educate a bunch of kids. How hard can that be? Right?

Three hours later, Rodney finally arrives in Atlantis. Giant structures tower above him as some kind of ominous sign, and it's at that exact moment that his confidence starts to wane and doubt creeps in.

"Kids. Small children and teenagers. What the hell am I supposed to do with them all day long?" he mutters to himself. "The only thing I did at their age was read books about physics and go to the daily prayer services at the abbey."

So, by the time he arrives at Sanctuary in the late afternoon, he's almost shaking with nerves, not sure how to react to this -for him- uncommon emotion. He has never been without confidence in his own abilities, until now. And it doesn't help that the beautiful, graceful mansion becomes bigger and more intimidating with every step he takes.

And then he's there. Standing on the porch at the front door he hesitates for a moment to gather all his confidence and knocks loudly.

It doesn't take long before the heavy door opens with a loud creak. And standing in front of him is--

--no one.

"Huh."

"Hi," a little voice says.

Looking down he realises he was wrong before. There is actually someone standing in front of him. Only-- it's a midget. Or possible a very small child. And who can tell the difference anyway?

"Hi," he replies.

"Who are you?" the midget asks, her curly head bobbing up and down as she studies him intently.

"I'm Rodney McKay. I'm expected," he explains.

"Epxected for what?"

"Not epxected, you little pip-squeak. Ex-pec-ted," Rodney says, already utterly annoyed.

"All right. Ex-pec-ted for what?"

"I'm supposed to take care of a bunch of under aged little spoiled brats and I'm assuming you're one off them."

Blinking quickly, the little girl just keeps staring at him before she suddenly yells out loud.

"LAURAAAAAA!"

"What? Your siblings are deaf as well as stupid?" Rodney asks, covering his ears.

Undeterred the little girl tugs at his sleeve until he drops his right hand. She slips her little hand in his and leads him inside the beautifully decorated entrance hall.

"What's a pip-squeak?" she suddenly blurts out.

"What?" Rodney asks, still a little dazed that this little person just took his hand in hers as if she'd known him her entire life.

"You called me a pip-squeak and it didn't sound very nice."

"Uhm-well, it's-- Oh, for the Ancients' sake," Rodney swears, leaning down and looking straight in the little girl's huge brown eyes, "stop asking stupid questions and call your daddy already."

"I called Laura and she'll get daddy. And I'm not asking stupid questions. Chaya told me that a question can never be stupid," she fervently nods, her dark brown curls bobbing up and down again.

"Oh, and I suppose Chaya is always right," Rodney argues.

"Yes. Chaya is very smart for a 12-year old," she whispers conspiringly, holding her hand next to her mouth as if she's sharing a secret, "I heard daddy and uncle Radek talk about her once."

"Really," Rodney says, "What? You just overheard? Or did you put your ear very close to the door?"

Blushing slightly, the little girl doesn't answer.

"Yes, well--" Rodney says, grinning smugly, "That answers that question."

"I'm Katie," the girl suddenly says, sticking up four messy fingers in front of his face, "and I'm four years old."

"Ah yes, how interesting," Rodney says, starting to get annoyed by the little smart-ass. "You must definitely be the smartest one of the bunch," he adds condescendingly.

"Actually, she is," another voice behind him answers. And as he turns around he is faced with an angry looking teenage girl whose eyes are shooting daggers at him.

"You must be the new--," she starts, her eyes roaming over him until he feels really uncomfortable, "--nanny."

"No."

"No?" the girl asks, left eyebrow shooting up.

"Well, obviously I'm a man so therefore I can't be a nanny," Rodney replies, making quote marks in the air to emphasize his last word.

"Then who are you?" the girl asks, suspicion clouding her voice.

"He's Wodney McKay," Katie interrupts.

"Rodney. R as in rough, ruggedly and rambunctious, " Rodney says, clearly agitated as he heavily rolls the R in every word."

"Rodney McKay? Well, it seems that you are the nanny after all," the older girl replies, "I'm Laura. Your worst nightmare."

"Pleased to meet you too, Laura. That's very-- comforting to know," Rodney sarcastically says, before ranting on. "Listen, I never asked for this okay? I'm just here because I had no other choice, so why don't we just agree to be civil towards each other until we part ways again."

"Hmm, I don't think so. Where's the fun in that?" Laura replies with a mischievous grin.

Giggles erupt all around him.

"Okay, where are the rest of you little midgets? I heard you. I know you're there," Rodney says menacingly.

And then all the children suddenly appear in a flurry, from behind doors, furniture and curtains, assembling quickly in the middle of the hall.

"What the--," Rodney begins before he's interrupted once again.

"Excuse me, but I would appreciate if you wouldn't swear under this roof," a strict, serious and slightly drawling manly voice speaks up behind him.

It takes Rodney a millisecond to logically deduct that the Colonel just walked into the main entrance hall. He quickly swivels around and starts talking.

"Listen, I didn't mean to--" and that's how far he gets before he snaps his mouth shut again as he's suddenly standing face to face with a tall, well-dressed man and his mop of dark messy hair.

"Mr. McKay, I presume," the Colonel begins, thrusting out his hand.

"Uhm-- yes, Rodney-- Rodney McKay," Rodney says, gripping the Colonel's hand and shaking it enthusiastically, "Carson explained to you that I was coming?"

"Yes, he did. I'm Colonel John Sheppard."

"Yes, that's what I thought. You know, logical deduction and all, since I presume there's no other men living under this roof and -huh- you're probably not interested in that, are you?" Rodney trails off when he sees the distinct rise of the Colonel's right eyebrow as if he's wondering what the hell Rodney's going on about.

And Rodney can now see where Laura got that facial expression from as it's a match to her father's.

"Rodney-- do you mind if I call you Rodney?" the Colonel asks.

"No, no. Go ahead," Rodney says brightly, before muttering under his breath, "not like I have a choice in the matter anyway."

"Excuse me?"

"Nothing. Just, you know, the fact that I got sent here against my will. Coerced even-- by monks! Everyone's always going on and on about monks being noble and kind, but let me tell you, they are dead wrong. They can be a vicious bunch when you rub them the wrong way. Trust me."

"O-okay," the Colonel says, sending him a funny look. "Listen Rodney, I don't think this is going to work out. So, maybe it's not such a good idea for you to stay here and--"

"NO! No, I can handle it. Really," Rodney emphasises when he sees the eyebrow rise again. "I can. Besides, if I don't do this, I'll never be a monk and I just-I need to do this. P-please," he manages to bring out, disgusted by himself for actually grovelling like this.

"Very well, if you think that you can handle it," the Colonel says with a doubtful voice, before turning to the seven kids. "Let me introduce you to the children. From left to right you see Laura, Ronon, Chaya, Peter, Aiden, Sam and Katie."

Turning back towards Rodney he continues, "They're to study at least 6 hours a day and after that they can play, but only in or around the house. I don't want my children traipsing around the countryside or in the city."

"They can never go outside the mansion's borders?" Rodney questions incredulously.

"No, they can't. It's simply too dangerous for them out there."

"Right," Rodney says, rolling his eyes.

"What?" the Colonel says.

"What what?"

"What was with the eye roll? Are you questioning my authority here?" the Colonel snaps.

"What? Me? No. Really I'm not. No questioning of authority whatsoever. I was just- you know," Rodney gestures with his hand towards his eyes, "rolling my eyes because-- because I have a tic."

"A tic," the Colonel repeats.

"Yes, I can't keep from rolling my eyes. See," Rodney says, heavily rolling his eyes towards the Colonel, "there I go again. I can't help it."

"Yeah, all right all right," the Colonel says, his expression slightly bemused, before turning towards the children again. "Children, I expect you to be on your best behaviour. Obey Mr. McKay and don't get into trouble."

"Yes, Sir," the children reply in chorus.

"It's like a mini army," Rodney suddenly pipes up and quickly shuts his mouth when the Colonel visibly tenses up and turns to glare at him.

"These are my children McKay, not soldiers, and I expect you to take good care of them and make sure that no harm befalls them," the Colonel says.

"Yes, you can count on me, Sir, Colonel Sir," Rodney promises, straightening his back.

"Just Colonel will suffice Rodney," Sheppard sighs, all tension leaving his body again.

"Yes S-Colonel."

"Very well, children, I leave you in Rodney's care now. I'm going back to work," the Colonel says, turning around to stare at Rodney one last time, an unspoken warning clearly written in his hazel eyes.

'Mess with my kids and--'

Breaking their eye-contact, the Colonel slowly and gracefully ascends the stairs and disappears into one of the rooms on the first floor.

"Well, that was-- interesting," Rodney says, "is he always like this?"

It's Peter who speaks up when Rodney asks the question.

"When mommy was still alive he was different. He used to lift me up real high and fly me around all the time, pretending to be a bird, but now he doesn't have time to play with us anymore," he softly says.

"Peter," Laura hisses, "shut up!" before turning towards Rodney with a sickeningly sweet smile plastered all over her face.

"Mr. McKay, can we escort you to your room?"

Highly suspicious of their motives, Rodney accepts, but the children do just as they said and they lead him up the stairs, straight to his room. It's a spacious room with a big king-size bed and it's the first time Rodney has had such luxury all to himself. Right when he's starting to think that maybe this isn't going to be all that bad, he sticks his hand into his right pocket and gets his fingers caught in a mousetrap.

His curses reverberate loudly throughout the house, immediately followed by children's giggles and laughter.

Rodney sighs heavily and sinks down miserably on the bed as he gently extricates his fingers from the trap. All the time silently plotting Carson's painful -very painful- demise with a maniacal glint in his eyes.

~*~

It's two weeks of utter torment and despair later, at a moment when Rodney is lying in bed contemplating leaving the mansion once again, when a subtle change occurs.

For the past two weeks Rodney has found spiders, toads, mice and other vermin in his bed when it was time to go to sleep. Now, this wouldn't have bothered him too much if it wasn't for the fact that some of these creatures were totally unsanitary. The spiders he could live with, but toads and mice? Yuck.

During the day he had to constantly be on his guard for more mousetraps, squealing children and stupid pranks, and he was completely and utterly sick of it.

As a last resort, he had even tried to complain to the Colonel but the man just told him to suck it up and deal with it. What stupid advice is that anyway? As their father he'd think the man would be more actively engaged in his children's education. Even the monks were more there for him when he was a kid than this guy is there for his own children.

It only grew exponentially worse when the Colonel just up and left two days ago. No explanation besides some lame story about having to attend to some urgent business on Earth. There was a quick and rather awkward goodbye to the kids and a drawled 'so long Rodney' and then he was gone. Unbelievable.

Rodney's already thinking of the words he could use to write his ten-days notice, when he is interrupted.

"Mr. Wodney?" the tinny sound of Katie's voice drifts in from behind his closed bedroom door.

Sighing heavily, Rodney responds, "Yes, Katie?"

"Can I come in?"

"Why?"

"Please can I come in?" she softly repeats.

Sighing once again, Rodney slips from under his warm blanket, flips the light switch and opens the door. Katie's standing there, clutching her teddy bear so close to her body that its stuffed head is bulging out and the little beady eyes seem to be popping out.

"What do you want, Katie?" Rodney asks, not really in the mood for another childish prank.

"Mr. Wodney, it's storming outside."

"So?"

"I'm afraid of the loud bangs," she whispers, large brown eyes looking up to him, pleading.

"It's just thunder and lightning. Nothing to be afraid of," Rodney says to the girl, shooing her away from the doorstep as he wants to close the door again. Yet she doesn't budge a single inch. Rubbing his eyes, Rodney resignedly steps aside and says, "You want to sleep here tonight?"

Without another word, Katie runs over to the bed and flings herself on it, snuggling deep under the covers.

"Great. Just great," Rodney mutters, as he starts closing the door. "Mr. Rodney?" another voice speaks up.

Swinging the door open again, Rodney is confronted with all the other Sheppard children.

"What? What do you all want from me? Are you here with more toads?" Rodney spits out. "Oh hey, I know. What about earthworms? I haven't found those in my bed yet. I'm saving up for quite the collection. Pretty soon I'll be able to open up my very own petting zoo for the clearly demented morons who have a genuine affection towards bugs."

"Mr. Rodney," Laura begins, "we'd like to apologize for all the things we've done to you during the previous two weeks."

"No, you don't. You think I can't see the difference between a sincere apology and a way to get into my room because you're scared of a perfect natural weather phenomenon?"

"All right, fine then," Laura huffs, "we don't want to apologise. Well?"

"Well what?"

"Are you going to let us in already?"

"Excuse me? I don't think you're in any position to make demands right now, young lady," Rodney sternly says.

Looking slightly apologetic -but nowhere near enough to satisfy Rodney-, Laura finally cracks, "I'm sorry. Can we please come inside and spend some time in your room? Only until the storm blows over. You have my word on that."

"No no and no!" Rodney shouts. "There's no way that you're all sleeping in my room tonight. Katie's the youngest, so she gets to stay. And that's final!"

He's still in the middle of glaring at them when the children change their tactics. Suddenly, six pouts appear and six pairs of pleading eyes are looking up at him.

"Oh, this is not fair! How the hell am I supposed to say no now?" he adds, voice slightly wobbly.

At hearing that, the pouts only become more pronounced and the needy eyes are followed by a familiar downturn of the eyebrows and just like that, Rodney's done for.

"Fine then," he starts with a huff, "Why not? By all means, come inside. We'll have a pyjama party. It'll be fun," he adds sarcastically, stepping aside and making a grand welcoming gesture as he invites them all in.

Rodney expected chaos and mayhem with the seven children hiding in his room. However, ten minutes later, he's sitting in the middle of his bed surrounded by curious but quiet children as he proceeds to explain to them just how exactly a lightning bolt is created and how it's nothing to be afraid of. He tells them about atmospheric disturbances, the colliding of cold fronts with warm fronts and how they can count the seconds between thunder and lightning to know how far the lightning really is.

When he's finally finished, there are seven sleeping children surrounding him. And it suddenly hits him that these children trust him enough to fall asleep in his room, on his bed. Little Katie's head is resting on his thigh as he absently combs his fingers through her curly hair. It occurs to Rodney that perhaps coming here wasn't all that bad, because no matter what the kids have put him through during the last two weeks, the one thing that he hadn't been, not even for one second, was lonely. A feeling he got to know very well when he was living in the monastery.

~*~

It's still early in the morning when Lieutenant-Colonel John Sheppard is flying his personal puddlejumper home again. And this time he isn't alone. The famous scientist Radek Zelenka, his business partner and life-long friend, is sitting next to him, busying himself with going over some schematics about upgrading the older puddlejumper-models.

"John," a female voice calls from the back of the 'jumper.

"Yes?"

"Are we there yet?"

"Elizabeth, I already told you that it's a three hour flight from Earth to Atlantis and we've only just passed the Stargate," John explains calmly when the woman saunters up to the cockpit.

"Yes, but I'm bored," she replies, leaning down on the back of John's chair. "Radek?"

"Hmmm," Radek replies, as distracted as ever.

"Radek, are you ignoring me?" Elizabeth pouts.

"Ignoring you?" Radek says, looking up from the schematics. "No, of course not, my dear Countess. I'm merely working and not paying too much attention to my surroundings. It is nature of job, I'm afraid," he explains with a distinctive accent in his voice, clearly indicating his upbringing on Earth.

"Well then, entertain me," she goes on.

"Entertain you? With what?" Radek asks, gesturing to their surroundings.

"I don't know. You're a scientist. Tell me something about science. Say, for instance, what is so important about those schematics you're studying?"

"Ah, I can do that. Listen--"

From this point on John filters out the rest of the conversation as he focuses back on his task of flying the 'jumper home.

He doesn't want to admit it out loud, but he's actually quite anxious to get back to Sanctuary. And this time it's not even the children he's worried about. Well, not directly anyway. He's concerned about the new nanny he hired. The novice Rodney McKay.

The two weeks prior to John's trip to Earth had been hell for McKay. The children did nothing short of making the man's life absolutely miserable and for some odd reason he still held out and stuck around. Most of the other nannies never even made it past a few days, but this guy-this guy is something else.

He bitches, moans and complains all day long, without caring about anything or anyone in the immediate area hearing him. And still, he sticks around like a stubborn old donkey that just refuses to take another step, no matter how much you taunt it.

But that was when John was still in the house to keep an eye on things. Now he's been gone for almost three weeks, and he's afraid that the only thing the maids will tell him is how Rodney McKay packed his bags and left in a huff, complaining and bitching about John's high-maintenance kids.

And they really are. High-maintenance, that is. John doesn't have any illusions about his children's behaviour. He knows they are misbehaving and that the only reason for that is to attract John's attention. And he definitely realises that if Teyla came back right now, she'd kick his ass for letting it come to this.

But something died inside of him when Teyla was killed and, even though he loves his children to death, he just doesn't have the spirit or energy anymore to spend a lot of time with them. At least, not like he used to when Teyla was still around. The children remind him too much of how it used to be, and he doesn't want to remember. It hurts too much.

As a solution, he hires nanny after nanny, but none of them ever stick around long enough. So, that's why John's curious. Curious about whether or not McKay has held out or if he'll have to go searching for a new nanny once again.

It's about an hour later when John slowly starts to descend the 'jumper as he flies over the wide open countryside that surrounds the mansion. At that moment Radek notices a few moving dots far beneath them. Children, they see as they approach them. Children that seem to be hauling around heavy materials and are too busy to pay any attention to the puddlejumper.

"Huh. Probably children from the nearest Athosian settlement," John says, "Although I don't understand what they're doing all the way out here, on the mansion's grounds, since the settlement is pretty far away."

A minute later he lands the puddlejumper softly at the designated area behind the house. As they step outside, John is immediately suspicious as he doesn't see or hear the children anywhere.

"John, darling. I'm a little tired. Do you think you could have someone show me to my room so I can get some rest?"

"Yes, of course, Elizabeth. Radek, you know your way around the house. Can you escort Elizabeth inside and show her to her room?" John asks, still distracted by the absence of his children.

"John," Elizabeth whines, "Radek doesn't have to show me to my room. Why don't you ask the housekeeper?"

"Oh, I don't have a housekeeper," John replies.

"No housekeeper? But, who takes care of the household then?"

"Well, my wife used to do that, but these days the maids lend a hand whenever they can and we manage just fine," he explains, still looking around in search of a sign of his kids.

"Very well then," Elizabeth sighs, "Lead the way, Radek."

"This way, my dearest Countess," Radek says, while offering her his arm.

As they disappear into the house, John can still vaguely hear Elizabeth complain, "Really, Radek. No housekeeper? That man needs a wife sooner than later, and if you ask me--"

And then all is quiet outside. Too quiet.

John's just about to turn around and follow Radek and the Countess inside when children's laughter and happy squeals reach his ear. The sounds seem to be coming from somewhere on the adjoining lake at the left side of the house. The children's voices are immediately followed by a voice John has only known for a very short period of time, but he'd already recognise it anywhere.

"No! You little morons! You're all insane! Just sit still before we tip over! Peter, get that foot back in the boat and-- OH NO!!!" Rodney cries out, before John hears a loud splash.

John snorts out loud, before he walks over to the side of the lake, listening intently to what'll come next. He's not overly concerned about the children since they are all excellent swimmers. He made sure of that.

A heartbeat later, he hears McKay spluttering, "I can't believe I actually let you nitwits talk me into this. If I get pneumonia out of this, I'll sue all of you. Even if I have to talk to the judge from my death bed. Do you hear me Peter!?"

John stops at the side of the lake to see his 7 children crawl up to the shore, soaked to the bone, but matching happy grins firmly pasted on all their faces. There's carefree laughter like he hasn't heard in a very long time, and suddenly the grin on John's face grows as he realises that for a moment there, he forgot about the past.

He is just happy to see his children smiling and goofing around. Briefly, guilt washes over him, but at the same time he celebrates, realising that this is a good feeling. This is something significant. He just isn't quite sure what it is yet.

When he looks back to the water, he sees McKay wading through, facial expression that of a drowned cat. Miserable as hell, he crawls on to the shore. But, somehow, for John, Rodney couldn't have looked more beautiful if he had tried. And wasn't that a disturbing thought.

"You're all going to pay for that! I can't believe that you just--" Rodney starts as he's still crawling up the shoreline, head down, coming to a full stop as his head collides with a pair of legs. John's legs.

John's staring down at him now, immensely amused by McKay's diatribe and antics, but when Rodney sits back on his knees and his sky blue eyes look up at him, John no longer feels amused. This strange man, right now with his crooked mouth slanted downwards in a scowl, somehow made his children laugh again. Hell, he made John laugh again and that should count for something, right?

So, John thrusts out his hand towards Rodney to help him up, at the same time offering his friendship. And Rodney may be a pain in the ass, but as he studies John with those intelligent eyes, John realises that he's being measured for his worth and finds himself fervently hoping that Rodney will decide he's worth his friendship.

Then Rodney tentatively reaches out, firmly grasping John's hand, and there's a surge of triumph flowing through him, knowing he passed some kind of test. Slowly John pulls Rodney up until they're almost standing eye to eye, John only a little taller than Rodney.

"Colonel, I didn't know--" Rodney begins.

"Call me John," John interrupts.

"I'd rather not," Rodney says.

"Why not?"

"I don't know," Rodney says again, not making any sense, but somehow it's perfectly clear for John. He has to earn this. He has to earn this man's trust and then, only then he'll become John to him, instead of Colonel.

"All right, Colonel it is-- Rodney," John says, finally letting go of Rodney's hand. The spell is broken when Laura interrupts them.

"Dad," she says, trying hard to get her dress in some semblance of order, which makes her look even more ridiculous since it clings to her like a wet dishcloth. The other children aren't looking any better, but for some reason John couldn't care less as he walks over to them and kisses them all on the top of their heads, affection shining through.

"Go on ahead. Go inside and clean up before dinner," he says.

With eyes big as saucers the children stare at their father, almost as if he's grown two heads on the spot. It's only when Ronon, who is always hungry, turns and walks away towards the house, that the rest of them are set in motion and follow him. But not without Laura casting a curious look back at John, as if to ask what the hell is going on. He just shrugs his shoulders since he couldn't tell her, even if he wanted to.

"Well then, I'll just go inside too. I desperately need a change of clothes before I get sick standing here too long in this chilly breeze," Rodney says.

Softly chuckling, John replies, "Rodney, it's mid-Summer and twenty-seven degrees Celsius outside. I highly doubt you'll develop a cold in this weather."

"Ha, that goes to show how little you know about the human body, Colonel," he starts, "You see, a cold is a virus, and you can never get it from standing in a cold breeze for too long; however I once--"

John tunes out the rant that follows about Rodney's physical health completely as he slowly follows him back to the house. He realises that he's still grinning like a fool and he wonders what the hell it is about McKay that, for the first time in three and a half years, makes John feel like himself again.

~*~

"Okay, haul that piece of metal over here, Ronon!" Rodney yells, before turning towards Katie. "Pip-squeak, I need you to do something for me."

"Sure, Mr. Wodney," she says, looking up expectantly at him.

"Okay, see these three wires here? The black, yellow and red ones?" he pauses to see if Katie is still with him. "Well, I need you to braid them together like your sister did with her hair this morning," he says, pointing at Laura's braided ponytail.

"I love bw-- braiding!" she whoops and sets to work.

Wiping the sweat from his brow, Rodney looks up again and pauses for a moment to take in his surroundings. Who would have guessed two and a half months ago, that he'd actually one day get along with the seven midgets. To be honest, he even managed to stun himself with that one.

For the life of him, he still doesn't understand what keeps these children coming back to him what with all the yelling and scoffing he shoots at them. And yet, every morning they're there, waiting for him, picnic ready and energy levels sky-rocketing through the roof. He only discovered their interest for Physics and Math by accident, that night when they hid out in his room, afraid of the storm. But as soon as he found out, he saw the potential to use that interest to his own advantage, and they'd learn something in the process.

So, he engaged the seven of them in a project that requires intelligence, energy and most of all Math and Physics. Together they are building a new kind of flying machine as a special gift for the Colonel. He's not quite sure what they'll call it yet, since it's more of a motorized glider then a real airship, but in grace and beauty it'll beat the heavy puddlejumpers by a mile.

Of course, finding a place to do their experimenting turned out to be a difficult task, until Rodney found out about the old barn that is built on the outskirts of the mansion's grounds. There they've found a place where they can work in peace and quiet. The only problem is that the shortest way to get there is by boat, across the lake. Which means, of course, that most days he's soaking wet by the time he gets home.

But it's all worth it. Because what he has discovered is far greater than any Physics experiment could ever teach him. He learned that he likes spending time with these kids and once you get to know them, they are- fairly decent and even somewhat intelligent. None of them even come close to Rodney's intelligence when he was their age, but then again, who does? But yes, he has to admit that, in their own way, they're pretty smart.

Laura's knack for musical instruments, and the way they are constructed, gives her an astounding insight into the inner-workings of any kind of machine. Ronon, on the other hand, is not good with machines, but he's a silent strong worker as he lifts the heavy equipment almost effortlessly, never getting tired.

Chaya started out as a quiet, closed off child and, even though she'll never be known as the chatty one of the bunch, she has started opening up more and keeps surprising Rodney and her siblings every day.

One day, now about two weeks ago, she just sat down in the corner and started telling them a story while everyone was working. The children were stunned when they heard the way she spun and wove the sentences together into an intricate tale of a young courageous boy that set off on a quest in search of friendship and love.

She has the ability to move you to tears or make you laugh until your sides hurt. And Rodney will deny this until his dying day, but when his heart-felt compliment for her amazing ability to create a story was followed by a brief but tight hug two days ago, he actually had to walk outside for a moment to get his emotions back in check.

The only one jumping and running around all the time is Aiden. He doesn't seem to be able to sit still even for a short moment. He's constantly bouncing around the barn, taking and delivering various tools and messages to and from the others. He's not interested in actually building a glider, as he told Rodney when Rodney asked him if he wanted to help out.

"That depends," Aiden said.

"On what?"

"On whether or not we can blow the machine up."

"What?! Why would you want it to blow up? It's a present for your father," Rodney said incredulously.

"Yeah, it is, but I think it'd be so much cooler if we could just blow it up."

And that's when Rodney decided that, yeah, Aiden helping out might have been a bad idea to begin with and had disaster written all over it. So he rewarded him with another task. Aiden became the project's message boy.

Peter's warped sense of humour can cause problems once in a while as he loves to play pranks on his unsuspecting siblings, but Rodney took care of that by giving him an official task that he takes very seriously. It seems Peter also thinks he has a keen eye for colours, so now he's painting the hull of the flying machine in all kinds of- interesting green colours.

At first, Rodney was a bit mystified what task to give Sam and Katie, in order to make sure they didn't feel left out. Until Sam walked up to him in the middle of his simplified explanation of aerodynamics, to basically tell him -in a very haughty tone- that he had made a mistake in the equations that were written down on the wall to illustrate the specifics.

Sitting with his back to said wall at the time, Rodney just shooed her away, confident in his abilities, and told her he was Rodney McKay and he was never wrong. Of course, later it turned out that the little girl had been right when Rodney got up and turned around towards the wall, only to be confronted by a mistake only an idiot would make.

A panic attack, dizzy spell, upset stomach and brief memory lapse later, he had bribed Sam to keep his -undoubtedly- first and last mistake in his life-time, quiet. And when she demanded to be made head-mathematician of the project, he didn't think twice and gladly gave her the job.

As for Katie? She has taken a liking to him and now just follows him around all the time, like a lost puppy that has found her mommy again. Every time the little girl looks up at him with those shiny brown eyes, filled with something that reminds him a lot of blind adoration, Rodney feels a smidgen uncomfortable. He's never been the recipient of such blatant affection before and he finds it rather difficult to deal with.

But it doesn't end with Katie's adoration or Chaya's hugs. No, it's also Laura, gently touching his arm, smiling appreciatively at him whenever he grudgingly compliments one of the younger kids. Sam, eyes glazing over and looking up in awe at him whenever he starts spewing out equation after equation. Peter, flinging himself around his neck as he grows bored with painting at the end of the day and needs to work off some of his energy by goofing around. Ronon, grunting and sending him a grateful look, as Aiden climbs on Rodney's lap during lunch, just to chat with him and tell him about all the secret messages he passed along that day. Let it be known that a bigger gossip than Aiden Sheppard never existed.

And may the Ancients help him, but he finds himself not really minding the attention, adoration and -dare he say it- love, all that much. Because every day he feels himself falling more and more in love with these kids. These midgets: intelligent, talented and highly exhausting; have somehow wormed their way into his heart and that was the last thing he ever expected when he closed the heavy abbey doors behind him, now almost three months ago.

~*~

"--Then he actually kissed her on the mouth in front of all his guests. It was quite scandalous, I tell you. And to make it even worse--," Elizabeth prattles on.

Elizabeth has been John's guest for a bit over a month now, and already he fervently wishes that he never invited her in the first place. But at the time he only saw her charming, captivating side, and she looked like the perfect mother for his children. He had no desire to fall in love again, but his children at least deserved some happiness, so if that meant settling for Countess Elizabeth Weir, he was willing to pay the price.

Only, it hasn't turned out that way, has it? Because Elizabeth turns out to be a cold, calculating woman whenever she is around the children. As charming as she can be around adults, when she's around the children it becomes obvious it's all an act. John doesn't like the way she treats them. Almost as if they are just random inconveniences, necessary to get what she wants-John.

Well, John isn't about to play along anymore. He doesn't need to, because he has Rodney to take care of his kids now. Rodney, who calls the children morons and incompetent fools. Rodney, who still refuses to call John by his given name. Rodney, who has somehow managed to do with bluntness what others have tried to achieve with tenderness: make his children smile again. And, subsequently, make John smile again.

For two weeks now they have been holed up in that old barn on the other side of the estate. John has tried to lure the children into telling him what's going on there, but they have apparently all been sworn to secrecy: running their mouth will result in fierce punishment and Rodney stalking them for the rest of his natural life- even when he's too old to walk he'll still come after them in a wheelchair. Peter's rendition of Rodney's scowling face when he spoke those very words still cracks him up every damn time, because it's so typically McKay.

Needless to say the kids aren't too keen on telling him for those exact reasons. But to be completely fair, John doesn't really mind. Because every morning he gets up to the sound of Rodney complaining to Sam that she'd better stop trying to kill him by making him fresh orange juice, and it never fails to make John snort in amusement, spitting out his own orange juice in the process. In the evenings, the children return, tired but happy. They politely eat dinner and go to bed without any nagging, which surprises John each and every time.

After the children have gone to sleep, John, Rodney, Radek and the Countess have taken up having long discussions that go on to well into the night. Animatedly, they talk about various topics ranging from the children's studies -which McKay is oddly closed-lipped about- to the intricate design of the latest puddlejumpers.

John has taken up a new hobby during those evenings. He's dubbed it seeing how much it takes to bring Rodney to his boiling point. Needless to say, it usually doesn't take all that much to have McKay throw a fit over something as idiotic as how to properly use a screwdriver. It never fails to amuse John though. Watching Rodney huff and puff is almost like watching poetry in motion, something you rarely get to see in a lifetime, but is -none the less- almost beautiful.

And then there's Radek. He and Rodney immediately hit if off when they discovered their mutual passion for Physics, often resulting in long sessions filled with lots of advanced Physics geek speak that goes way beyond John's knowledge. It also, very often, makes the Countess fall asleep from boredom. A huge plus in John's book.

Elizabeth doesn't like Rodney all that much. To her he's unrefined, boorish and rude. All of those traits that make Rodney seem so refreshing to John. He has had a lot of experience with the higher class and he finds most of them dull and annoying, but Rodney is none of those things. He'll always say what's on his mind, even if that means being brutally honest.

He's the same way with the children. He'll always tell them exactly what they're doing wrong and why it is wrong. The children seem to appreciate his straight-forward approach and complete candidness. Even more so, they thrive on the attention Rodney lavishes upon them and, John suspects, they might even have fallen a little in love with him as a stand-in-parent. And John can't be completely sure, but in the short time he's known Rodney he's fairly certain that the -secretive- soft looks the man bestows on the children means that he's fallen just as hard.

Even Laura has finally grown to care for Rodney, if the conversation John accidentally overheard this evening, right before dinner, is anything to go by. He was on his way to the dining room, when he passed the library and heard voices coming from within. He opened the door to check if any of the children were there, when he noticed Rodney and Laura in the far corner of the room. A bit worried because of the sadness Laura's face radiated, he decided to go in, but right before he stepped out from behind the door, Rodney asked:

"So, what is it?"

"What is what?" Laura said.

"Oh, come on Laura. Don't give me that Sheppard puppy dog look. You know it doesn't work on me." Rodney snorted, " I know something is wrong because you've been moping around all day long and even made Katie cry."

"It's nothing," she replied, crossing her arms in front of her chest defensively.

"Yeah, it never is until it becomes something."

"Rodney, trust me. You can't help me with this one."

"Laura, I didn't drag you in here for you to waste my time by telling me complete nonsense. Look, if it turns out that I really can't help you then so be it, but you won't know unless you say something. So try me," Rodney said, sitting down on the table to show he wasn't going anywhere.

Sighing deeply, Laura settled herself next to him before she spoke:

"It's about boys. Well, one boy actually," she quietly admitted.

"Boys? Oh great, is this where I get to give the talk about the birds and the bees and where you reveal you know more about it than I do?" Rodney bluntly asked.

"No, Rodney," Laura sighed, rolling her eyes at him, "I'm not ready to go that far with a boy yet. Besides, I already had that talk years ago with my mom. See, there's this boy that I really like. He comes to the house sometimes to deliver packages and I always sneak out the back to talk to him."

"You sneak out!" Rodney shouted, "Are you insane? This guy could have dubious intentions towards you. For all you know he might--"

"Rodney! Not helping here!" Laura yelled back, gesturing wildly.

"Right, shutting up now. Sorry. Go on," Rodney said, impatiently waving his hand in the universal sign of 'continue'.

"Okay, so I meet him sometimes and last weekend he kissed me."

"Really?" Rodney asked, before going on hesitantly, "What's it like?"

"What?"

"Kissing?"

"You've never been kissed before?"

"Hey, dumped on the monk's doorstep at the tender age of two here. When would I have had the opportunity to kiss anyone!?" Rodney shouted out defensively.

"Really never?" Laura asked curiously.

"No."

"Wow, and I thought my love life sucked--," Laura trailed off.

Huffing noisily, Rodney stuck up his index finger. "One. Thank you so much Laura for your kind words. I'm sure they were designed to make me feel better and to pull me out of the cesspool that is called 'wallowing in self-pity," he spit out sarcastically, sticking up a second finger. "Two. If I ever hear you using such blunt words or phrases again, the word punishment will have a whole new meaning for you," he concluded.

"All right all right, sorry," Laura said, sighing deeply.

"Good. Also, if you ever tell anyone about this conversation I will deny it fervently and make sure you'll never speak again-- ever. Understood," Rodney said, glaring at Laura.

"Don't worry, your secret's safe with me," Laura said, sending him a wide grin.

"And why doesn't that convince me-- at all," Rodney sighed, dragging his hands through his hair.

"Do you still want to hear the rest of my story or should I just let you sit here and talk to yourself some more?" Laura asked.

"Yes yes, do go on," Rodney said, urging her on by waving his hand.

"Okay, the kiss was great. So, that's not the point."

"Then what is?"

"How can I be sure?"

"Sure about what?"

"About whether or not he's the right guy for me?" she hesitantly asked.

"Huh," Rodney said, rubbing his chin in quiet contemplation, "good question. I don't think you can ever be really sure. But, I suspect that when you're with the right guy for you, you'll just know. It's like doing a Physics experiment. Sometimes, no matter what you try, the results are never good. At other times, the results are better, but still not enough. And then, at one moment when you're sure that you should just stop the experiment, because it's not showing you any new or surprising results, you'll try something out-something you haven't though of before and BAM! Everything-- every molecule, every atom will connect just right. Almost as if the entire universe was created to give you just that one result. In that moment, it all just-- clicks"

"You think it's really that easy?" Laura asked, voice laced with hope.

"Yeah, I really think it is," Rodney said, sounding oddly wistful.

"Thanks Rodney," Laura softly said, before hugging him tightly. Rodney awkwardly returned the hug before he closed his eyes and dropped a tender kiss on top of her head.

"You're welcome."

John had quietly left them alone after that, baffled by the revelations and confessions he had witnessed, from his daughter as well as from Rodney. Laura sneaking out to meet a boy-- who would have guessed? His little girl is growing up faster than he has ever anticipated, and that saddens him a bit. Which reminds him that he has to have a serious heart to heart with the young man in question- or possibly new locks on the back door.

Then there's loud, abrasive Rodney, meekly confessing that he has been alone for his entire life just because he had the misfortune to be left in a monastery. Now, he's surrounded by children, love and joy for the first time, knowing that he'll have to go back to the abbey someday. Back to the bleak emptiness of a monk's life of quiet contemplation.

Somehow it doesn't sound like Rodney at all. Rodney needs people around him. He has to be able to complain and moan about his imaginary and non-imaginary illnesses, even if no one is listening. He needs to talk Physics with scientists. He needs to be loved by someone who can see right through the protective shield he's built around himself. Someone like-- No no, this is where John has to draw the line to that way of thinking. No point going there, because whether or not John agrees with Rodney's choices, it doesn't change the fact that the man's a novice and he's to become a monk one day. That's just the way it is. Period.

Just then, the children all enter the sitting room, tired, clothes dirty and faces smudged with-- what appears to be green paint. They're all sporting wide grins on their faces and are immediately followed by a scowling Rodney who's rubbing his nose and is clearly unhappy about something. This makes John suppress a grin in anticipation of the complaint that is about to be uttered. And he doesn't have to wait all that long either.

"Ronon, the next time you open a door could you not close it smack in my face please?" he says, sending Ronon an angry glare. Ronon just looks at him, shrugs his shoulders and proceeds to walk over to his sisters and brothers, who have now formed a line from young to old.

"What's going on?" John asks, curiosity peaking.

"Oh, John. Don't they look lovely all standing in a row like that?" Elizabeth interjects, grabbing John by the arm, clinging to him. "It's almost like a choir. I'll bet that's what this secrecy has been about. Are you all going to sing a song for us?" Elizabeth asks the children, as if she's talking to a bunch of toddlers.

Rolling his eyes in exasperation, John is about to respond to that clearly idiotic statement, when a loud snort comes from his left. Closing his eyes, John knows what's about to come. And maybe he should run interference to diffuse the situation. But really, Elizabeth has had it coming for a while now, and who is John to deny Rodney the pleasure of telling the Countess exactly what he thinks about her remark? So, in the end, he just steps back a bit, dislodging his arm from Elizabeth's grip, ready to enjoy the show.

"Singing?" Rodney suddenly yells, going alarmingly red in the face, "Singing? You think I wasted all my time in that hovel of a shed that takes an hour to get to, to sing happy tunes? What do we look like to you? The Von Trapp family? Those idiots across the border who had nothing better to do with their time than to burst out in song until everyone's ears bled," Rodney practically fumes, "No wonder they suddenly and mysteriously disappeared like that. I'll bet you my genius brain -and trust me, it's priceless- that the surrounding villagers had something to do with it, judging by the party they held the day after the disappearance."

Taken aback, Elizabeth gently lowers herself down onto the nearest chair and wisely shuts up. Although John has to hand it to her that she manages to do all of that very regally and with a stubborn glint in her eyes, clearly showing she's already planning to get Rodney back for this, one way or the other. The Countess might be a bit arrogant and lousy with kids, but she's by no means stupid, as she has proven many times by running successful diplomatic interference between nations at the brink of war.

From the corner of his eyes, John can see how Radek has to hide his smile behind his hand. It is just like John suspected then. Radek genuinely likes Rodney and appreciates his candor too. Radek may be a little fickle and unpredictable, but John has learned to trust the man's instincts when it comes to people. Rodney has just gone up another notch in his appreciation, and Elizabeth is swiftly sinking towards the bottom.

"Really-- singing," Rodney mutters as he turns towards the children and gives them some kind of sign.

Laura steps forward from the line and walks over to John. "Dad," she says, "For the past few weeks, we've been working on a surprise for you. We combined all our strengths, and with Rodney's help, we made you something really special."

Curious as never before, John allows his children to surround him and lead him outside and when he steps out into the backyard, he sees--

"By the Ancients," he practically breathes, because there in front of him, stands some kind of -what appears to be a- flying machine. Two large wings, both covered with a sail, sprout from the sides, and its sleek aerodynamically designed body is painted in the most hideous green colours he's ever seen, but that doesn't matter, because it looks real and solid and--

"Can it really fly?" he asks as he briefly turns towards Rodney.

"Yes, of course," Rodney huffs, "it would kind of defeat the purpose to build a glider that doesn't fly. If there's enough wind- provided you feel suicidal enough, you should be able to just jump from one of the higher mountains in the Alps, fire up the engine and fly away. The Sailplane is designed in such a way that you'll be able to soar over the world for quite some time."

"Sailplane?"

"Yes, that's what we decided to call it after an anonysymus vote," Katie speaks up.

"Anonymous," Chaya corrects her, before tugging on her father's hand, "Do you like it father?"

"Like it?" John says, voice choked up with emotion as he gently touches Chaya's cheek, "No, honey, I love it. It's absolutely perfect."

As he looks up again, he sees Radek winking at him before taking Elizabeth's arm and leading her inside the house, in order to give John some time alone with his kids. Rodney is left on the terrace, indecision written all over his face. And just as he turns around to follow Radek inside, John calls out to him, because Rodney leaving will simply not do.

"Rodney!"

Abruptly, Rodney stops and turns around, his face a mask of concern. And doesn't it figure that just now Rodney's insecurity would pop up to wreak havoc.

"Rodney," John repeats, looking him in the eye, before softly saying, "You built me a flying machine." Because John knows that, even though the children have clearly done a valiant effort and must have helped out tremendously, in the end, this has Rodney McKay written all over it. And without him none of this would have been built. None of this would have happened.

"Well yes, I did," Rodney blusters, clearly growing uncomfortable with John's attention solely focused on him. "But, I didn't do it alone. The children helped out a lot and without them it wouldn't have looked like this -granted, which might have been better because my eyes start to hurt whenever I look straight at it, but you know-- you were in the Air Force and you really like everything that has to do with flying, so the kids just figured that this might be something you'd enjoy."

"Thank you for this," John says, grinning like a lunatic and motioning behind him to the vicinity of the plane.

"You're welcome, Colonel," Rodney says, completely embarrassed now and bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet. "It's just a physics project really. It was actually kind of fun," he grudgingly admits.

And the man still doesn't get it.

"No, Rodney," John says as he closes the gap between them and finally stands still in front of him with less than half a meter of space separating them, "Thank you for giving me back my children. Without you-- I would have still been lost in my memories, but -in a way- you helped me move on. Thank you for that."

Blushing furiously by now, Rodney shrugs his shoulders and says, "Well, it's all in the day's work of a monk, I suppose. You know-- doing good deeds and being selfless and-- some other stuff like that--," he trails off uncomfortably as John chuckles out loud.

"Well then, okay-- I should probably-- go inside," Rodney says, pointing towards the house, before he starts to turn away. John's hand shoots out faster than he can think about it, and then he's firmly holding on to Rodney's wrist. He looks down for a moment, wondering what the hell he's doing, but as he looks up again and meets those big beautiful blue and confused eyes, John knows exactly what he wants. "Stay," he practically breathes and he knows that Rodney will interpret it as staying here, in the garden, as the children are running around the sailplane. But John also knows that's not even close to what he really means at all.

"All right," Rodney says, briefly brushing his fingers over John's hand and then he's off again. Walking towards the plane and yelling to Peter to stop kicking the front wheels. For the first time in years, John feels there's no turning back now; it's inevitable. He can't escape from these emotions that have settled within him and how he wishes he could, because he's not ready to lose again. And he just knows that he will.

"Daddy," Katie interrupts his thoughts, by tugging his sleeve.

"Yes, honey," he says, looking down at her in adoration.

"Will you lift me up to play the puddlejumper game?" she shyly asks.

Laughing out loud, John bends down, picks up his daughter and hugs her tight, before whispering in her ear, "For you? Anything."

Then he lifts her high above his head as he starts making humming noises, spinning around as Katie's giggles fill his ears. The other children are all running around with Rodney chasing after them. A contented grin settles on John's face as he hears Rodney calling them all sorts of names, voice laced with something suspiciously akin to love.

~*~

It's late at night, when Rodney walks through the silent house, making his way outside. Sleep seems to elude him tonight and he figures he might as well tinker a bit on the plane. See if he can increase its resistance, before the Colonel decides to take her out for a test flight one of the following weeks.

What he doesn't expect, however, is one Colonel John Sheppard who's leaning against the Sailplane, the bright moonlight illuminating and caressing his features in such a way that it makes Rodney stop to appreciate the beauty for a moment.

Over the last couple of weeks Rodney has got to know the Colonel a lot better as they have spent most evenings together, discussing science, war, the progress of the children and many other topics. Rodney has actually started looking forward to those moments. He truly likes sitting with the man in the parlor, talking as equals. He's learned a lot about John Sheppard that way. The most important thing he learned about the man, he picked up during one of their first discussions, is that it turns out that John Sheppard is a lot smarter than he lets on.

"Rodney, can I ask you a question?" the Colonel asked.

"See, that's a tricky question," Rodney replied, "On the one hand I can say 'yes' which you will then use to ask me a very embarrassing question about why a thirty-six-year old is still a novice and not a monk. On the other hand I can say 'no' which will -undoubtedly- insult your fragile ego and I'll be out of here faster than a puddlejumper can fly. But I guess I'll have to take my chances as you're my employer and -more importantly- my ticket to complete monk-dom, so go ahead," Rodney replied.

"Wow, that is the longest answer anyone has ever given me to a question that hasn't even been asked yet," Sheppard says, one corner of his mouth tugging up into a smirk.

"Yes, well-- genius here," Rodney says, pointing towards himself.

"So tell me Rodney, how is it that a thirty-six-year old is--" the Colonel trailed of, laughing out loud.

"Colonel, I swear--" Rodney started.

"Oh come on Rodney, how could I not? Even though that's an interesting question too, there was actually something else I wanted to ask you," Sheppard starts, hesitating briefly, as if looking for the right words, "When Carson contacted me to tell me that you were being sent to look after the children he also told me that you're some kind of prodigy. I have to admit that I thought he was exaggerating, but just the other day, I heard you talking about Physics and Math to the children and now I'm left wondering about just how smart you are."

"Ah. Well, let's just say that, provided I'm supplied with the right equipment, I can build you one of your puddlejumpers from scratch, probably improved too. Because the design of the current puddlejumper holds a few careless mistakes that could easily be taken care of if someone bothered to look for the right answers."

"I'm sure Radek would love to hear that," Sheppard said, his right eyebrow lifting up. "Especially because he's the one who managed to improve just about everything on the puddlejumpers."

"Yes, well-- I'm sure he did a fine job, but--" Rodney started.

"Fine?" the Colonel interrupted incredulously. "No, he did a great job. Radek is a genius when it comes to the 'jumpers. He's one of the best engineers I've ever worked with."

"He's not as good as me though," Rodney simply stated.

"You've got some ego about you Rodney," Sheppard said, sounding a little annoyed.

"It's not ego," Rodney replied, "Just simple fact. I built a working model of a nuclear bomb once, when I was twelve. I got picked up by the Genii because of it."

"The secret police picked up an twelve-year old?" Sheppard asked incredulously.

"Yes, as you know they aren't very happy with freedom of speech and democracy in our fair nation. They'd much rather call the shots themselves and make everyone obey them without questions asked," Rodney said, eyes fixed on one of the many ornamental mantle pieces, caught up in his memories for a moment, "Anyway, that' s not the point, is it? The point is that I managed to build a fully working nuclear device when I was eleven and I think it's fair to say then that I may be called a genius," he smugly concluded.

"Well, I won the 'Brotherhood' award of Mathematics when I was fourteen. What does that make me then?" the Colonel asked, a smirk lurking at the corners of his lips.

"You-- you what?" Rodney spluttered.

"The 'Brotherhood' Mathematical Award, Rodney," Sheppard continued smugly, " I'm sure you've heard of it before. You know. The Award only given to people who have made significant contributions to the mathematical science."

"For what?"

"I made a contribution," Sheppard started, "by solving a previously unsolved Mathematical equation."

"What was the equation?" Rodney asked, fascinated by the story.

"The Rubicon-theorem."

"You? You are the one that solved the Rubicon-theorem? An equation that has eluded the greatest of them all for such a long time, and you solved it? At the age of fourteen?"

"Yep, I did. And today I'm reaping the benefits of it, by using the theorem to improve the puddlejumpers' design."

"I thought Zelenka works on the design?" Rodney asked.

"Well, he does," Sheppard agreed, "Just not by himself. We tend to form a kind of two men think tank whenever we want to tinker with the jumpers. We make plans, theorise about them and then we try them out. If the change improves the ship, we inform our engineering department and they'll develop it even further until it's ready to be produced and used on a grand scale."

They talked about nothing but the improvement of the jumpers that evening and for Rodney it was a complete revelation that John Sheppard turned out to be somewhat of a genius too. So it's only natural that, since that night, Rodney's heart beats a tad faster when the Colonel starts talking science. Just a normal response. After all, who can really resist the lure of technical talk? Certainly not Rodney McKay.

As he's pulled back to the present he focuses his attention on the Colonel, still casually leaning against the Sailplane. His eyes are closed, the wind softly ruffles his hair and suddenly Rodney's mouth goes dry as a hint of pink tongue appears to gently lick those full, sensual lips. And when exactly had he started thinking of the Colonel's lips as sensual? This is not good. Not good at all.

But that doesn't stop him from taking that one extra step outside, alerting the Colonel of his presence. Sheppard's body tenses up, but he doesn't opens his eyes.

"McKay," he says.

"How did you know it was me?"

"The way you walk," Sheppard answers.

"The way I walk. You know how I walk?" Rodney asks.

"A souvenir from the war," the Colonel bitterly replies.

"So, how?"

Sheppard slowly shifts as he turns his body towards Rodney, eyes still closed.

"How what?" he softly asks, voice tinted with curiosity.

"How do I walk?"

A smile tugs at Sheppard's lips. "Hesitant," he says, as he slowly opens his eyes, focusing solely on Rodney.

"Hesitant?" Rodney repeats, unbelievingly, because one thing he's never been accused of being, is hesitant.

"Yeah, even though outwardly you seem certain and secure of your abilities, it doesn't reflect in your step. You always hesitate before you approach someone, as if you're afraid of disturbing them in some way. Always doubting yourself."

Momentarily without words, Rodney just huffs and turns around as if to walk back inside again.

"Don't."

The silent spoken plea, not a command, stops Rodney in his tracks.

"Tell me Colonel, why shouldn't I leave when all I get is mockery in your presence?" Rodney asks, bitterness seeping through every word.

"I wasn't mocking you Rodney, just observing. If I'm wrong about my observation, I apologise."

"Colonel--" Rodney starts, but is quickly interrupted by Sheppard.

"John," he says.

"Colonel," Rodney repeats, pointedly ignoring Sheppard's last remark, "I didn't come down here to receive some kind of psychiatric evaluation based on the pattern of my step. So, I kindly ask you to keep your-- observations to yourself in the near future."

"Fair enough," Sheppard says. And Rodney almost hears the man shrugging his shoulders before he leans back against the plane, with a thud, "no more observations."

Not really knowing what to do, Rodney finally turns around again and does as he intended in the first place, as he walks over to one of the wings and starts inspecting it.

"She's a beauty," the Colonel breaks the silence and it's only then that Rodney dares to glance over towards him again. And what he sees throws him. The Colonel is still leaning against the flyer, eyes closed, but his stance is no longer tense. Instead he's slouching against the hull as if he's waiting for something-someone. The pale moonlight reflects on the skin of his neck as he leans his head back, the only movement the steadying beating pulse. A patch of dark hair peeks from beneath his slightly opened collar. This is the first time that Rodney has ever seen the man so completely relaxed. Not even during their long evening discussions has he ever seen Sheppard like this.

And suddenly Rodney finds himself craving things he cannot name. He wants to touch the pulse point in Sheppard's neck. He wants to trace those luscious lips with his fingers, feeling how that velvety skin shifts under his fingertips. He wants to stare into the Colonel's eyes, until he feels like drowning. Run his hands through that mop of thick dark hair, feeling its structure and the way it bounces back when he lets go.

"She is, Rodney. A true beauty," Sheppard repeats. "In fact, she's so beautiful that Radek wants to enter you, the children and the Sailplane in some kind of science contest," he adds.

It's the part science contest that snaps Rodney out of his reverie.

"Contest?"

"Yeah, a contest where the most ingenious new designs can win prizes," the Colonel chuckles. "I said no of course."

"You did?" Rodney asks, a little incredulous.

"Yeah, I don't want my kids to enter some contest. They've already won in my eyes and I don't want them to be disappointed if they lose."

"Lose?" Rodney huffs indignantly. "Puh-lease Colonel, the Sailplane would win hands down. It's my own personal design and it was built under my supervision. Trust me. There's no way this baby can lose."

"Yes well, that may be the case, but I still don't want my children to compete in some silly contest," Sheppard says, grinning softly.

"But--"

"No buts," the Colonel breaks off whatever Rodney's argument might have been, as he slowly rocks back on his feet until he's no longer slouching but just lightly leaning against the hull of the plane. Opening his eyes, he looks straight at Rodney. "I don't want it. So let's drop it."

"Okay," Rodney softly agrees, not quite sure what just happened but convinced there's a good reason behind the Colonel's reluctance.

"So," Rodney starts, changing the subject, "Colonel. I came out here because I couldn't sleep, but why are you outside at this hour of night?"

A wry smile replaces the softer one that had appeared earlier and Rodney curses himself for asking the question.

"Can you keep a secret?" Sheppard asks.

Somehow this is not what Rodney had expected him to say, so he's not sure how to reply.

"Well, that all depends on the secret, doesn't it?" Rodney replies.

The Colonel softly shakes his head from side to side as he drops his gaze to the ground, a small adorable smile tugging at his lips.

"You are one of a kind Rodney. Anyone ever told you that?"

"Please, Colonel. When you get to be thirty-six year old with a personality like mine, you get that- a lot."

"I bet," Sheppard says, face turning serious again as he sighs deeply and meets Rodney's eyes. "I got this letter today," he says, reaching into his side pocket and retrieving a small envelope. "It's from the Genii Headquarters."

"Oh."

"Yeah, oh," Sheppard says, slowly dragging his hand through his hair. "Do you know why you're here Rodney?" he suddenly asks.

Momentarily baffled by the sudden change of topic, Rodney doesn't really know what to say, and then the moment passes as the Colonel continues.

"When Teyla-- my wife, died-I-I-- something happened to me that had never happened before. I gave up. I just let go and gave up on everything and everyone. I figured, if I could stop loving the people and things in my life, I'd be safe from the immense hurt of losing them," Sheppard says, a far away look in his eyes.

Rodney stays quiet, desperately clenching his hands to his sides, resisting the urge to reach out as he watches how a suddenly vulnerable Sheppard struggles to find the right words to continue.

"I didn't consciously make the promise. Cowen was just visiting and--"

"Wait a minute," Rodney interrupts him, "Cowen? As in the head of the Genii? As in the Genii, the most non-secret secret police ever?"

"Yeah," Sheppard nods, "that Cowen."

"What did he do? What did he make you promise, Colonel?" Rodney asks, having heard of Cowen's cruel nature.

"He-- you have to understand Rodney, I was in a bad place at the time and--"

"Sheppard," Rodney softly stops him, giving him a pointed look.

"I promised him I'd fight again. I'd give up everything. My house, my children-- everything for simple pure revenge. I told him that as soon as he'd gathered enough people to go hunting the surviving Wraith rebels, I'd be his man. Whenever it would be, I'd be ready to go with him-- to die with him."

"That's the most idiotic promise ever. You do know that, right?" Rodney scolds.

"By the Ancients, yes! I know Rodney. I know," Sheppard whispers, desperation clinging to his voice, lifting the letter again. "But a promise is a promise and now--"

"Now you've gotten a letter from Cowen, demanding you make good on your promise," Rodney continues.

"He's started to assemble his army and he thinks it'll be ready within a few months. And at the time I didn't think too much of it, but today-- they're smiling again, Rodney. You made the children smile again. For the first time in such a long time I don't feel like breaking something whenever I think of the Wraith. I just think of my children and how much I love them and-- I don't want to leave them ever again. They already lost their mother and I don't want them to lose their father too."

"Then refuse," Rodney says. "It's just a promise. It's not written in ink. Just a promise. Surely they can't hold you to that?"

"You don't know Cowen," Sheppard snorts. "There are rumours he had his own mother killed by Kolya, his most-trusted officer and personal bodyguard. I can't run the risk of him coming after the children because I refused to make good on a promise."

"This is insane!" Rodney yells. "Do you even know what you're considering here? You'd have to leave everything behind to go on some kind of witch-hunt that'll most likely get you killed."

"I know. I know," Sheppard acknowledges, his shoulders slumping slightly, "but it's a burden I have to carry by myself. No one can help me with this one."

Looking at Rodney again, something shifts as his eyes steel up and his spine straightens.

"But enough of this," he says, words clipped. "I would appreciate it if you wouldn't mention this little-- conversation to anyone, McKay."

"Of course not," Rodney mumbles, "but I still think that--"

"Enough!" the Colonel snaps, immediately followed by an apologetic glint in his eyes. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to snap. I just-- yeah. Listen, the Countess seems to think that this place is quite boring and I've decided to throw her a small party next week in order for her to get settled in a bit better," he says almost as in an afterthought. Intently studying one of the tiles next to his feet he softly adds: "After all, she might well be the new mother of my children someday and she should get to know some of the family's friends."

And Rodney knows it. He had always known that the Countess wasn't just at the mansion for a visit, but somehow he always managed to not think about it too much. At first because he didn't really care, later because he didn't want to care. So, when Sheppard just bluntly tells him the truth about her, it's almost as if he receives a physical blow to the head, his chest hurts as if his heart is going to pop out, and this is not supposed to happen.

Because this is not what Rodney has ever envisioned his future to be like. He has foreseen endlessly boring days, spent at the Abbey, all following each other until they become a somewhat blurred mess of breakfast, lunch, dinner and prayers.

But never- not in his wildest dreams, did he ever expect to meet seven children who would grow to mean so much to him. He never thought he'd meet a charismatic ex-Air Force Colonel who would drive him crazy with something he isn't supposed to want or need. But most of all, he never saw it coming that -one day- he'd actually have all that and he would have to give it up again.

Before he's able to say anything, the Colonel turns around after bidding him a short goodnight. And suddenly Rodney's alone and -for the first time in the months spent at the mansion- lonely again as he walks over to the sailplane and softly caresses the moonlit hull as if it's the most precious thing he's ever created. And maybe it is.

~*~

A small party. Rodney surveys the scene of the supposed small party the Colonel has decided to throw for the Countess. Apparently the Colonel's definition of small is a little different then Rodney's, as he has already counted up to a hundred people, just to make the time pass faster. Rodney has never really been to a party before and so far he's having a grand old boring time. He's practically glued to the wall as he watches how people make a fool of themselves on the dance floor. The only thing of interest to him right now is the food. Plenty of food, just waiting to be eaten and Rodney is planning on doing just that.

"Hey Rodney," Laura says as she suddenly appears next to him, panting heavily from all the dancing, while she gracelessly slumps down against the wall. "How do you like the party so far?"

"Hmm-m," Rodney mumbles.

"I'll take that as a not so great Laura, but at least the food's good," Laura says as she leans her head back and stares at Rodney as if he's some kind of a hard puzzle to crack. It's at these times that she resembles her father the most. Charming, but extremely annoying.

"You know, shouldn't you be out there to do whatever you were doing out there?" Rodney asks, vaguely motioning towards the dance floor.

"Rodney, you're doing a great performance of the Atlantean wall-flower, but why don't you go out there and dance? Ronon, Aiden and Peter are dancing too. Heck, even Chaya's dancing, why aren't you?"

"I don't dance," Rodney sighs.

"Yes well, I figured that out, but the question is why not?" Laura says, rolling her eyes, "You should get out there. There are plenty of beautiful women-- and men, who wouldn't mind you shaking it a little," she adds.

"Excuse me?" Rodney asks incredulously. "You do know that I'm a novice right? I'm about to become a monk and being a monk doesn't go well together with wiggling that ass," he spits out.

"Oh come on Rodney," Laura pouts, "you know I didn't mean it like that. It's just really sad and, well frankly-- you don't mind me being frank, do you?"

"No by all means, be frank and insult me some more. I kind of like it, since I'm such a masochist," Rodney mocks.

"Okay, cool," Laura says, ignoring the sarcasm. "I really think it's kind of pathetic to plaster yourself to a wall when there's a party and dancing going on."

"Well, thank you for that wonderful insight, Laura. I'll cherish this precious moment for the rest of my life," Rodney says, sighing deeply and thinking of ways to get rid of the annoying teenager.

"Laura, stop bugging Rodney and go dance some more," the Colonel suddenly interrupts.

"Okay, Dad, but I still think he should show off some moves. The girls would go wild," she adds, before running off again.

"Oh, thank God," Rodney sighs, slumping a little further down against the wall, sending the Colonel a grateful look.

"Yeah, Laura's a great girl, but she can be quite-stubborn at the most inappropriate times," Sheppard says, chuckling softly before he casually leans against the wall, close enough so their shoulders brush against each other.

All of a sudden Rodney's overly aware of the warmth radiating off the Colonel's body. A burning heat starts in his shoulder and spreads out to every cell in his body.

"Well," Rodney says, jumping away from the wall as he opens his collar a bit and puts some distance between him and Sheppard, "I'm going out into the garden for a moment to get some fresh air."

He quickly turns around, but not fast enough as the Colonel grabs his arm to stop him. "Hold on," he says, "I'm coming with you. It's getting quite warm in here. I could use some fresh air."

"O-okay," Rodney manages to choke out, freaking out internally as he's not quite sure why the feeling of the Colonel's hand on his arm is making him shiver all over.

And then the Colonel is walking in front of him, leading the way through the patio doors, straight into the garden. Once outside, Rodney takes a deep breath in order to calm down again. Acting like a schoolgirl with a crush is not supposed to be a part of this job.

"Come on," the Colonel says, a boyish grin plastered all over his face. "I've got something to show you. You'll love it."

"Colonel, what-" Rodney starts, but Sheppard has already grabbed his wrist and the words he was going to say vanish into the night, because those fingers are wrapped around his bare skin, tantalisingly close to the palm of his hand.

"Trust me Rodney," Sheppard says, looking straight at him. "Come with me."

"Okay," Rodney says, mesmerised by the earnest glint in the Colonel's eyes, and then Sheppard is tugging him along towards the back of the house.

As they pass the 'jumper's landing pad, Rodney decides it's as good a time as ever to ask a question that's been on his mind for quite some time now. "Colonel, why is it that the children can never play outside the mansion's grounds?"

Rodney feels, rather then sees, how Sheppard tenses up and it almost makes him wish he hadn't asked in the first place, but the question's out in the open now and Rodney's never been one to back down from something if he wants the answer badly enough.

"It's too dangerous out there," the Colonel replies.

"Yes yes, you already mentioned that about a million times, that's not what I want to know," Rodney replies, vaguely annoyed by the Colonel's evasive answer. "Why do you think it's too dangerous?"

"When--," Sheppard starts, hesitating briefly, "When I fought in the war I lost a lot of good people under my command. Friends. Family. The Wraith-- they just swooped in when we least expected it. They took us by surprise. So many were culled. After the war, I swore I would never let that happen again. And then they got my wife. And I'll be damned if they'll get my children too," he says, steely conviction bleeding through in every word.

"Oh," Rodney says, because really, what can you say to such a confession of love and protection. So, he just lets it go.

Throughout his explanation, the Colonel hasn't stopped walking and he's moving still, firmly holding on to Rodney's wrist, so Rodney has no choice but to follow. Then, suddenly, Sheppard stops at the edge of a huge clearing and Rodney almost walks straight into his back.

"Colonel, you might give a guy some warning, before you just stop like that. I have very brittle bones and a broken nose is the last thing I need right now," Rodney snaps.

Totally ignoring his rant, the Colonel lets go of Rodney's wrist and turns towards him.

"Do you believe in magic, Rodney?" he asks, a boyish grin lightening up his face.

"Magic? No. I believe in science and hard facts. Magic is too fickle a thing to depend on."

"That's what I thought you'd say," Sheppard says. "Rodney, what you're about to see is highly classified and I need you to keep this to yourself. No matter what happens. You must never speak of this again."

"Colonel, I don't understand--," Rodney starts, just as Sheppard reaches out his hand and places it upon a big rock at the edge of the clearing.

And a moment later, all Rodney can do is stare, because there -right in front of him- lie ruins. Not just any ruins. No. Old ruins. Ancient ruins. Magnificent ruins.

"How the hell--," Rodney starts, unable to look away from the amazing sight.

"My grandparents discovered these. Apparently, they were found when the house was built. The ruins have always just-- been there, but no one knew because they were hidden from sight by some kind of protective invisibility shield. Someone must have accidentally touched the right place on the stone and the ruins appeared. My grandparents called in help from an -at that time- well-known Earth archaeologist, a Dr. Daniel Jackson. He helped them excavate the ruins and what they found was--," Sheppard hesitates briefly, grinning softly, "--simply incredible."

"Well?" Rodney asks.

"Well what?"

"Are you still going to tell me what they found here, or was your plan all along to kill me with curiosity?"

"Now, that's an appealing thought," Sheppard replies, holding up his hands innocently to fend off the glaring beams coming from Rodney's eyes. "Rodney, no one knows these are here. I mean, I know, and Radek knows for obvious reasons. The children have some knowledge of this, but not everything. They have simply been taught to never play here. And that's it. No one else knows."

Confused, Rodney turns towards the ruins again. "Why? What is so special about them?"

"Ah, you should know Rodney, that there's always an angle when it comes to beautiful things. The discoveries made in this place are as amazing as they can be deadly."

"You found weapons," Rodney says, understanding what Sheppard is trying to say.

"Well, no-- not weapons as such, but plans to create them, yes. Some capable of potentially disastrous cataclysmic destruction. That's why my grandparents and Dr. Jackson decided to keep it within the family. For three generations my family has been studying the ancient plans in order to use them for good, but so far the only useful thing we've been able to come up with is--"

"--the puddlejumper," Rodney finishes his sentence.

"Yes, the puddlejumper. All the technology used to build it originates from this site. We're even trying to find a way to create a shield around the 'jumpers to conceal it from sight, just like the ruins, but so far those plans only exist on paper."

"That's-- amazing," Rodney says, still surveying the ruins with a sense of awe.

"Yeah, that's what I thought you'd say," the Colonel says, smirking at him, "but we'd better go now. It's best to not let the ruins be uncovered for too long. It's too dangerous for someone to find them. They can't be seen from the house, but someone could spot them from up in the sky."

Another brush over the stone and the ruins are gone again, the clearing looks as pristine and untouched as before.

"Colonel?" Rodney asks as Sheppard turns back to him.

"Yeah?"

"You said no one knew of the existence of these ruins, besides you and Radek--," Rodney trails off.

"Yeah, that's right," Sheppard says, his eyebrows frowning in confusion.

"Yes, but why did you tell me? I mean, for three generations this secret is kept within your family and then you just decide to tell an outsider, a virtual stranger. And I can't help but wonder why."

Slowly, Sheppard runs his hands through his hair. His eyes are firmly fixed on the ground, almost as if he's afraid to look Rodney straight in the eye.

"I don't know. I just--," he says, dropping his arms against his sides and balling up his hands into fists. Suddenly, his head snaps up as if he's come to a decision. His eyes search out Rodney's and there's nothing Rodney can do but stare back at him, caught in the perfect hazel promise of the Colonel's eyes.

Swallowing hard, Rodney just knows he's reading this situation wrong. Because there's absolutely no way that a gorgeous ex-Air Force Colonel could be interested in Rodney McKay, novice and geeky genius extraordinaire. Right?

And then those perfect full lips open up. "Rodney, I think I--"

"Ah, there you are John! I've searched for you all over. You had me worried sick because I couldn't find you," Elizabeth's shrill voice cuts through the night, shattering the perfect bubble that had been created between them. Rodney holds the Colonel's eyes for another moment before looking away.

"Elizabeth. Yeah, I was just showing Rodney here some of the grounds," Sheppard says, his voice filled with-resignation?

"Yes," Rodney stammers, "the Colonel was very -uhm- helpful when I asked him to show me his favourite places on the grounds."

"Oh, John," Elizabeth pouts, "I thought I told you to reserve this time of night for me to show me some of your other- favourite places?" Elizabeth purrs, a saucy grin curving her lips just perfectly.

Taken aback, Rodney sets starts and takes a few steps into the direction of the mansion. Of course. How could he have misread the situation like that? The Colonel had only shown Rodney the ruins in order to pass some time, until he could be with the Countess again. And Rodney can't believe how he acted like a complete idiot towards the man.

"Well, it's already pretty late and I should probably get to bed since I have to get up early tomorrow. You know, the kids and all. So -uhm- you two just do whatever you were planning to do and I'll just-- you know-- be out of your way," he manages to get out with the last remnants of his dignity teetering around him, before turning around and jogging back towards the mansion.

"Rodney!" the Colonel yells behind him, but he doesn't glance back. Not even once. He's stronger than that and tomorrow he'll be gone anyway. There's no way he's staying at Sanctuary one day longer than he has to. Not after the way he just humiliated himself.

~*~

Very early the next morning, Rodney quickly packs his meagre belongings and leaves the mansion. A sharp pain blooms in his chest whenever he allows himself to think about the children. He can only imagine what they'll think of him when they discover he's gone. But they're young and resilient, so they'll probably bounce back in no time. After all, in the end, Rodney is just another glorified nanny. Doesn't mean he won't miss them a little though. Over the last couple of months he's really developed a fond appreciation for those seven brats.

And then there's the Colonel. There's no denying that, for a moment there, Rodney allowed himself to hope for unnamed things he's never had or -for that matter- wanted or needed before. However, the illusion was broken last night and Rodney knows he has no one to blame but himself for the bitter disappointment that followed.

So, it's with a heavy heart and a scowl on his face that he enters the abbey late in the afternoon. As he quickly walks towards his room, he hears Carson calling his name, but he's not in the mood to come up with a good excuse for his sudden and unexpected return. Next to that -and he fully realises that it's a stupid, childish thing- he hates Carson more than anything right now. Because he's the one who introduced him to a world that, over the last couple of months, has become his home. Sadly enough, the truth is that the family probably didn't see him as anything more than an overqualified governess. He's willing to bet that the Colonel is already looking for someone else, silently cursing Rodney for leaving without giving any notice.

Slamming the door of his room behind him, he locks out the entire world, determined to work harder and better to become the best damn monk that ever lived. Because if there's one thing he can do it's this, and Rodney McKay never does anything by halves.

~*~

"I just don't get it. Do you think he wasn't happy here? Doesn't he care about us?" Chaya's voice drifts through the closed door into the hallway, and it breaks John's heart to hear the sadness it holds.

He's leaning against the wall next to the door of Rodney's -no, not Rodney's anymore- room. About twenty minutes ago he saw his children shuffle into the room, faces crestfallen as if they were attending someone's funeral.

Curious, he had snuck closer and put his ear to the door, only to find out what he had already suspected. They miss him. They miss Rodney like they haven't missed anyone since their mother died.

Five days ago, without any explanation, Rodney had just upped and left. When Katie charged into his room that morning to wake him -something she loved to do-, she found it was empty. The only thing he left was a short, impersonal letter set next to the bed on the night table.

Since that moment the children have done nothing but mope around, listless and unhappy. Laughter has been scarce, and the Countess' valiant, but misguided attempts to distract the kids have only made the mood even more depressing. John knows that the children have been trying to reach Rodney at the abbey, but it seems that so far, he's refusing all contact.

John doesn't get that. He knows beyond a doubt that Rodney really cares for his children. Sure, he treats them somewhat differently then the previous nannies did, but that's exactly the reason why the kids like him so much. So, it baffles John that Rodney just cut all ties like that, without looking back.

But John isn't stupid. He strongly suspects that he himself is partly responsible for Rodney's quick departure. He must have been temporarily insane when he decided to make his intentions towards Rodney noticable. The man obviously caught the hint and ran off. Why couldn't John have just kept quiet and wooed the Countess instead of trying to convince a snarky novice of his strong admiration.

"John?" Elizabeth says, as she steps into the hallway.

"Countess," he replies.

"Now now, not so formal, John. After all, when we're married you'll have to call me by my given name all the time," she coyly says.

Ah yes, he had almost managed to forget about that part. The part where he got slightly drunk last night, silently cursed Rodney for taking away his last chance for something real and subsequently proposed to the Countess. John's still not sure what to think about Radek's disappointed sigh right after Elizabeth had coolly accepted his proposal. In fact, he's not even sure he wants to think about it at all.

Needless to say, the children were none too happy when he told them the good news this morning. This is such a mess. If only he had met Rodney under different circumstances. If only- but nothing is gained by dwelling on could-have-beens. Rodney McKay was a-- possibility only a few days ago, but today he's a hopeless case, so it's time to move on with what he does have. In time, the children might learn to love Elizabeth and accept her as their new mother. So, he turns towards her, plasters on his biggest smile and offers her his arm.

"Want to go for a walk-- Elizabeth?"

~*~

"You requested my presence, Father?" Carson says, stepping into Father Caldwell's office.

"Yes, Carson. Please, sit down," the Abbot says, looking up from the paper he's studying, focusing all his attention on Carson.

"Brother Carson, I'm sure you are aware that our wayward brother returned to us last week," the Abott says, wearily rubbing a hand over his forehead.

"Aye Father, I saw Rodney come in, but I haven't seen him since."

"Yes, I know. Right now, it seems that brother Rodney is determined to take the vow of devotion to an extreme as he spends all his time in his room in -what he calls- quiet contemplation."

"Quiet contemplation?" Carson snorts. "Huh- if there's anything Rodney isn't capable of, it's being quiet."

"Yes, I know. That's exactly why I summoned you here. To be frank, it's quite-- disturbing to see Rodney so devoted to heavenly causes. If anything, you would at least expect him to moan and complain about having to sit still and doing something so unproductive for such a long time," the Abbot smiles. "I don't get it. He doesn't want to talk about why he returned or what happened when he was with the Sheppards. But whatever it is, it has to be huge to effect our brother in such a way that he doesn't even want to do any of his experiments anymore. Even brother Kavanaugh has expressed some concern over this, so clearly it must be very severe. Are you absolutely sure he hasn't talked to anyone at all?"

"Aye Father, he refuses to speak to any of us. Further more, he seems to blame me for something, although I haven't a clue what it could be," Carson sighs, "To be frank Father, I don't understand either. The last time he sent me a message, he was very positive about his stay at Sanctuary. He genuinely seemed to like the children. We already know those kids are unhappy that he left, because Laura Sheppard and her siblings have been sending me messages since the day he arrived at the abbey. They keep demanding to speak to Rodney, but he keeps refusing."

"Maybe it's time for me to speak to him," the Abbot wearily suggests.

"Aye, Father, that might be worth a try. Maybe he'll open up to you."

"Very well then, let Rodney know that I wish to speak with him this afternoon, after the Psalms," the Abbot says.

"Yes Father, I'll let him know." Carson replies. "I really hope you'll be able to get something out of him. I know that you sent Rodney out into the world to learn about humility and compassion, but I'd rather have loud, obnoxious Rodney back than the silent ghost that he's become."

"I couldn't agree more, Carson. I'll speak to him, and hopefully he trusts me enough to tell the truth."

"Aye-- I hope so too," Carson sighs, nodding once before he steps outside.

~*~

"Father?" Rodney calls through the creak in the door.

"Ah yes, Rodney," the Abbot says. "Do come in."

Stepping inside, Rodney doesn't waste time before speaking up. "Father, I realise you sent for me, but I was already planning on talking to you to tell you that I'm ready."

"Ready for what?" Father Caldwell asks, slightly confused.

"Ready to become a full monk," Rodney replies.

"Rodney--" the Abbott starts, before he's interrupted again.

"Yes yes, I know what you're going to say. I'm not ready. I was given a task and I couldn't even complete it. Yada yada," he says, pacing the room up and down. "But, I've spent the last week in my quarters in silent-- well semi-silent prayer at least, and I've never felt as ready for anything as I feel ready to become a monk. So, please just-- just say yes," he practically pleads, rubbing his hands together frantically as he finally comes to a standstill in front of the Abbot's desk.

"Rodney, I appreciate your eagerness to become a full member of this community. I have to admit that the devotion you've showed us the last week is-- quite admirable. However-- and let me finish now," Father Caldwell says, when he sees that Rodney's gearing up for discussion again, "However-- there is something I don't understand. In all the time that I've known you, you have never backed down from anything. And here you are, you just abandoned your post at the Sheppard family and came back to us. So, before I can make any decision about whether or not you can become one of us, I need to know what happened. I need to know what made you run back to us like you did?"

"Isn't there some other question you can ask?" Rodney asks wearily. "You know, something like: Do you always have devoted thoughts? Not that I do, but it's the intention that counts anyway and I always intend well and--"

"Rodney," the Abbot interrupts him, still expecting a truthful answer.

"I can't--" Rodney begins, his voice wobbling with emotion. "Dammit Father, I'd make an excellent monk and you know it. Think of all the free publicity for the abbey if you accept someone of my intelligence into this community. The ground-breaking discoveries I'll make will -in some way or other- all be accredited to the abbey, I promise," he adds a little desperately.

Undeterred by Rodney's clumsy attempts to distract him, the Abbot digs a little deeper for the truth. "Did they mistreat you in any way?" he asks, a little concerned.

"No!" Rodney practically yells. "No. They treated me just fine. All the time I was there, they treated me as one of them, not just as an employee, but as a real person-- a f-f-friend even. And the children were kind of-- nice. Granted, they were a handful and the task to take care of them was very challenging sometimes, but most of the time they were just being kids. I can hardly blame them for that."

"Oh. Then why did you come back so suddenly?" the Abbot asks, more and more puzzled with every answer Rodney gives.

"I couldn't-- that is to say-- I mean-- it's not like he was actually interested, but-- she was so beautiful and then there's me, you know?" Rodney rambles, lightly tapping his chest.

"Rodney, you're not making any sense," the Abbot sighs. "Can you be a bit more clear in your answers?"

"Fine," Rodney snaps, clearly losing his patience as he crosses his arms in front of him defensively. "He confused me-- a lot. Happy now?"

Taking a brief moment to calm himself, the Abbot finally continues. "Who confused you?"

"Thclnl," Rodney mutters.

"Who?"

"THE COLONEL!" he yells, waving his arms wildly. "The Colonel. He-- he just-- yeah, very confusing."

"Colonel Sheppard? Why? What has he done?"

"Nothing-- and everything. I just-- I don't know. Maybe it's the crazy hair or the way his eyes light up every time he's around the children," Rodney mutters, running a hand through his own hair, his lips curving into a dopey smile. "It could even be the way he grins at me whenever I say or do something he finds amusing-- one corner of his mouth always a little higher than the other. And then the way he does the eyebrow thing when he's totally clueless about something. It's just a whole range of little things really-- and I just--," he trails off dreamily.

"Rodney," the Abbot says, finally gaining some insight, "are you in love with Colonel Sheppard?"

"No!--" Rodney shouts, eyes suddenly very wide and the corners of his mouth turned down, "Because-- you know-- that wouldn't be a very good monk-thing to do and-- that is to say-- yeah, perhaps. I-I don't know," he finally admits, shaking his head softly as his chin sinks against his chest.

"Well-- I have to admit. I didn't expect something like this," the Abbot says, smiling gently.

"I know, Father," Rodney mumbles. "I'm sorry."

"No need to say you're sorry, Rodney. The human heart can't be controlled. It's the part of us that makes us feel and experience emotions that can be quite overwhelming at times. But sometimes we need to face those emotions head on in order to either conquer them or embrace them fully into our lives. So, therefore, I think you should go back," Father Caldwell says in a decisive tone.

"By the Ancients, no. With all due respect, Father, but are you out of your mind?!" Rodney shouts, getting red in the face. "I won't go back there. I don't want-- I don't want to see him again," he adds a little desperately, "I want to become a monk and spend the rest of my life in the abbey, devoted to the Ancients."

"Rodney, love and devotion come in all shapes and forms. Sometimes you have to give up one life in order to find the one you were truly destined for. You should go back because you owe it to yourself to find out if there's something or someone out there that can make your life even better then it already is," the Abbot gently admonishes, "The Ancients are very clever, Rodney, and sometimes, when they close a door, they open up a window somewhere else. So, go back and find out if Sanctuary is the place where you are meant to be."

"But what if it turns out that it isn't?" Rodney softly asks.

"Well then, there'll always be a place for you here, among us. No matter what," Father Caldwell replies.

"I can't believe I'm actually agreeing to this," Rodney sighs. "But I suppose the idea of going back and finding out the truth does hold some merit. So, I guess-- I'll leave tomorrow morning."

"Excellent," the Abbot says, "Good luck to you, Rodney. May the Ancients illuminate your path and guide you well."

"Yeah, well-let's just hope they bring giant torches. Something tells me I'm going to need the extra light," Rodney says, before leaving the Abbot's office.

~*~

Needless to say, when Rodney shows up at Sanctuary, late the next day, the children are ecstatic. Chaya flings her arms around his neck and hugs him tight. Katie and Sam tug at his hands until he bends down a little to receive their kisses. Laura fires a million questions at him, while Peter and Aiden start running around him, yelling from the top of their lungs:

"Rodney's back! Rodney's back!"

Ronon just smiles a little amusedly and pats him on the back in a friendly gesture.

"By the Ancients, Rodney," Chaya says, still clinging to him like a parasite, "I'm so happy you're back. I missed you."

"Yes -well- okay." Rodney replies, patting her awkwardly on the back, rather embarrassed by all the attention he's receiving from the children.

"Mr. Wodney, why did you leave?" Katie suddenly asks.

"Ah well-- just-- could you all just stop touching me please!" he shouts, slightly irritated. "Peter and Aiden, shut up!"

Slowly, the kids quiet down, let go of him and gather around, still waiting for an answer to Katie's question.

"Listen, I can't tell you why I left, but I can tell you this: I'm back to stay this time; for as long as your dad needs me, I'll be here."

"That might not be all that long anymore," Laura sadly says.

"What do you mean?"

"It seems the Countess is going to be our new mother," she spits out venomously.

Oh.

"Oh. Well-- that's uhm-- yes well, I already said that as long as I'm needed I'll be here for you guys, Countess or no Countess," Rodney says, his voice breaking slightly.

It hurts to think about the Colonel and that woman getting married, but as Father Caldwell said, he owes it to himself to face his feelings for the man, even if it's only to find out that Sheppard and Elizabeth are made for each other.

"You're back."

Damn Sheppard and his stealthy manner of sneaking up on people. Without turning around to face the Colonel, Rodney straightens up a bit before he replies.

"Yes, Colonel. I am. If that's okay with you," he snaps.

"Rodney--," the Colonel starts, before hesitating briefly, "Children, go inside. Dinner is waiting for you, and I need to speak with Mr. McKay for a moment."

A bit reluctant, the children look from their father back to Rodney, not sure what to do. But then Rodney gives Laura a slight nod. "Go on. I'll be there in a few minutes," he says. Reassured that Rodney won't disappear again, the children walk away and enter the house, leaving Rodney and their father alone in the garden.

"Rodney, could you turn around please?" the Colonel asks.

"Depends," Rodney replies.

"Depends on what?" Sheppard asks, voice tinged with curiosity.

"On whether or not you're planning on hitting me for leaving without an explanation. If you're planning on doing that, I'm going to have to ask you to not go for the eyes. I bruise easily and I've had a black eye once and let me tell you-- it was not a pretty sight."

"Rodney, I'm not going to hit you," the Colonel says, exasperated.

"Ha!" Rodney spits out. "You say that now, but as soon as I turn around you'll get that urge. After all, I left your children in despair, because losing a genius such as myself must have been very painful for them."

"Rodney," Sheppard chuckles, wrapping his fingers around Rodney's upper arm, "You're not making any sense. Please, just turn around. I promise not to let the urge to hit you overwhelm me."

"Promise?"

"Cross my heart, hope to die," Sheppard says, slightly tugging at Rodney's arm before letting go again.

"Don't say that," Rodney says, turning around and finally looking the Colonel in the eye. "Stupid clichés like that have the nasty habit of becoming truth."

For a moment, hazel eyes meet brilliant blue and words aren't necessary. And maybe Rodney shouldn't throw his towel into the ring just yet, because whatever the emotion is that's currently radiating from Sheppard's eyes and enveloping Rodney in its warmth, it looks a lot like--

"John! Stop talking to the nanny and come inside!" Elizabeth yells from inside, interrupting the moment.

--Then again, maybe not.

"Well, Colonel-- It seems congratulations are in order," Rodney says, unable to conceal his frustration.

"Congratulations?" Sheppard asks, eyebrows rising in question.

"For your impending marriage. Surely you haven't forgotten yet. It'll be the event of the year," Rodney says, slightly venomously.

"Ah-- yeah, that," the Colonel says, dragging his right hand through his thick hair, shooting Rodney a lopsided grin, "It just kind of-happened."

"Well," Rodney says, sarcasm clouding his words. "Isn't that a lovely premise for a good solid marriage-It just kind of happened."

"Rodney, I--" Sheppard starts, before he's harshly interrupted by Rodney.

"Colonel, I'll stay just as long as you need me, but I should probably let you know that as soon as you've wedded the Countess, I'll be moving on again. My brief-- excursion at the abbey really made me realise that I've missed the place. So, I'll be going back as soon as everything's settled and the children have a new mother," he spews out breathlessly.

Then, as abruptly as he arrived, he bends down, picks up his bag and walks inside the house without a backwards glance. If he had bothered to look back once, he would have seen the forlorn look in the Colonel's eyes as he watches how Rodney disappears into the house.

~*~

That night, after the children have gone to bed, John's leaning against the rail of the balcony that leads straight from his room out into the back garden. His eyes are fixed on a lonely figure slowly walking through the garden, McKay- no, Rodney. There's only so long you can keep up the useless denial.

Earlier that day, Rodney had shown up at Sanctuary and just like that, John had started smiling again. Real, honest smiles disguised in insulting smirks, devious grins and amused laughter.

John doesn't know what made Rodney decide to come back -although he does have his suspicions. Rodney's not all that good at hiding his emotions-, but he realises without a doubt that he's not prepared to let him go again-- ever. John isn't a fool-- he realises what that means. Somewhere along the line his feelings for Rodney changed from friendship to something a lot stronger-- he fell in love with the man and he's not afraid to admit it anymore.

Over the course of the past week it has become clear to him that his life and that of the children would be so much better with Rodney in it- permanently. The children stopped laughing when Rodney was gone. Well, that is to say, they still smiled -they are children after all-, but not like they used to.

John had expected them to fall back into their old behavioural patterns from before Rodney came into their lives, but it turned out worse than that. The children just closed themselves off from John and Radek and especially from Elizabeth. Every day, John had felt more and more guilty for letting his personal anxieties interfere with the health and happiness of his children.

He remembers Teyla's last words: "Do not close off your hearts. Love again," and realises that this is what she had meant. Rodney lured the children out of their protective shields and even more so-- Rodney brought John to life again. What kind of a fool would he be to let something good like that pass him by? He at least has to try to get what he wants so much. And even if Rodney rejects him, he can still go to sleep tonight in the knowledge and confidence that he didn't fail his children in offering them happiness again.

"John darling, I need your help," Elizabeth says, interrupting his musings, as she steps out onto the balcony holding two different diamond necklaces, "What do you think? I just can't decide which one I want to wear for the wedding. I mean, they're both fabulous, but the one on the right was a gift from the High Priest of Menora for stopping the religious raids on that planet, while the other was a token of gratitude from the Ambassador of Geuna for helping him avoid war with their closest neighbours. As you'll understand, darling, this is--"

"Elizabeth," John softly interrupts.

"John, don't interrupt me like that," Elizabeth says, smile faltering as she catches the serious look in his eyes. "I realise you're probably thinking that I'm a fickle woman for making a fuss over this, but diplomatically speaking this could be a huge--"

"Elizabeth," John repeats, "This isn't going to work."

"John--" Elizabeth starts, unable to look him in the eye anymore, "I don't see the problem. What--?"

"This," he says, gesturing between them. "It won't work. We're too different."

"You don't want to marry me anymore," Elizabeth says, voice filled with hurt and resignation.

"No, I don't," John softly admits.

"Well--" she says. "This isn't entirely surprising. I mean-- I'm not really made for the country anyway. I love the city too much. And I'm sure you've noticed that I'm not all that good around children, so-- maybe it's for the best--," she trails off.

"Elizabeth--," John starts when he sees Elizabeth's eyes fill up with tears.

"No. John, It's okay. It really is. I'll get over it-- over you," she says, before smiling softly. "Besides, I never really had a chance anyway, did I?"

"I don't-- " John says, slightly confused.

"Oh come on John," she says, rolling her eyes. "I've known you for a long time now, and even though you're very good at hiding your emotions from the people around you, it's been quite obvious to me that -for a while now- you've been completely besotted with someone else. I haven't seen you this happy since before Teyla died, so yeah-- I knew my chances were slim. But I had to try and fight for you. You must understand, I'm not a quitter. It's not in my nature."

Moved by Elizabeth's words, John slightly bows his head, a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth.

"I've always known you were a smart woman, Elizabeth," John says, shaking his head softly.

"Yes, well-- not according to a certain ego-maniacal novice who's currently taking a walk down in the garden," she smiles, grabbing John's hand, before adding softly. "A novice whom I suspect, will never become a monk."

Swallowing hard, John looks down into the garden again, only to see Rodney running his hands reverently over the Sailplane.

"I'm going to pack, I'll contact someone to come and pick me up in the morning," Elizabeth says, as she lets go of John's hand, stepping back inside the house. "Oh. And John!" she calls from inside his room.

"Yeah?"

"Good luck!"

"Thanks," he answers, listening to her retreating footsteps until he hears the door close behind her. "I've got a feeling I'll need it," he softly adds, looking down at Rodney again.

~*~

Rodney hadn't set out with the intention to come here, but somehow his feet just led him to the huge clearing with the hidden ruins. Bathed in moonlight, it looks so innocent, but just underneath that innocence lies a discovery so big that it has the capability to change the future of the entire Pegasus galaxy. Ever since the Colonel revealed this place to him, Rodney has wondered what would have happened if a person with less integrity than Sheppard had inherited the burden of this secret. What would the world have been like then?

Cautiously, he touches the same rock the Colonel touched, and as if by magic, the ruins reappear.

"Couldn't sleep?" the Colonel's voice breaks through the silence of the night.

"No," Rodney replies, closing his eyes and smiling softly, realising the Colonel must have seen him leave the house. "No, I couldn't. How did you know where to find me?"

"Well, I saw you walk into the garden from up on the balcony and I figured you'd be curious enough to take another look around the ruins," Sheppard says, stepping up beside Rodney. "And since I couldn't sleep either, I decided to come find you."

"In other words: you don't trust me enough to have me nosing around this place without supervision," Rodney says wryly, turning towards Sheppard as he speaks.

"No. No, that's not it," the Colonel says, looking at him and showing the palms of his hands in a gesture of trust. "I really couldn't sleep. That's all."

"Well, if that's the case, I had that horrible dream again. The one where my IQ scores turn out to be lower than those of the village idiot," Rodney says sarcastically. "What is it that kept you from sleep Colonel?"

"Well, actually-- I was wondering--," Sheppard trails off.

"Yes yes, go on--I haven't got all night here," Rodney says, gesturing impatiently.

Snorting softly, Sheppard just shakes his head in disbelief. "By the Ancients, Rodney. You do know how to grate on someone's nerves, let me tell you that."

"Yes, well-I've never been much of a people person, so you'll just have to deal with it," Rodney huffs. "So, what is it you're wondering about?"

"Huh?" the Colonel says, slightly bewildered.

"You couldn't sleep because you were wondering about something. Remember? Ancients. You can be slow on the uptake sometimes, do you know that?" Rodney snaps, a little irritated.

"Oh yeah," Sheppard says, purposely ignoring Rodney's last remark. "I was just wondering about two things actually. One: why did you run away to the abbey? And two: what was it that made you come back? See, I've been wracking my brain over those questions. The last one in particular. But I just can't find a satisfactory explanation."

"Well, I came back because I had an obligation to fulfil--," Rodney trails off, sounding utterly unconvincing.

"So--what? That's it? You just came back because you wanted to honour your contract?" Sheppard asks.

"Yes, of course," Rodney says, a little annoyed now. "What other possible reason could I have?"

"Well, I don't know, Rodney!" Sheppard calls out, exasperated. "But I'd like to know. That's why I'm asking."

"Yeah well, I swear to you, Colonel-- I didn't have any other reason to return here, but to finish the job I started," Rodney says confidently. "A McKay never gives up!"

"Oh," the Colonel says, sounding a little disappointed. "So it had nothing to do with the children?"

"Well--," Rodney splutters, getting a little red in the face, "--maybe a little."

"A little?" Sheppard asks, smirking like a lunatic now. Proud, no doubt, because he has managed to pry a confession out of Rodney. Which -of course- infuriates Rodney to no end.

"Yes yes," he finally snaps, bouncing up and down nervously, tension seeping out with every word. "I might have missed them a teeny weeny bit. Okay? Happy now?"

"Yeah-but only a teeny weeny bit," Sheppard throws back at him, grinning widely.

"Haha, Colonel-- funny. Very funny," Rodney replies, irritated as hell. "Have you had a good laugh now? A grown man missing a bunch of kids. Has to be so funny for the tough military man. So-- you've had your laughs-- why don't you go take a walk somewhere else and leave me at peace?"

Tensing up, Sheppard suddenly steps up close to Rodney, totally ignoring his personal space. And oh, this is not good because not only can he hear and see Sheppard, he can actually smell him now and by the Ancients- the man smells good.

"Rodney, someone caring for my children- enough to actually set aside their own personal problems, in order to make them happy again--," Sheppard trails off, sighing deeply, his breath caressing Rodney's face. "Well-- in my book that's not a weakness, but an act of courage."

"R-Really?" Rodney asks softly, still reeling from Sheppard's closeness.

"Really," the Colonel says. "That's why I was wondering if perhaps--"

"Perhaps?"

"--perhaps you might--," Sheppard hesitantly continues.

"Yes?" Rodney urges him on, intrigued by the way Sheppard refuses to look him straight in the eye by stubbornly turning his head to the side.

"Well, nothing was the same when you were away--," Sheppard says, dragging his hands through his hair, "--and it'll be all wrong again after you leave-- and-- and I just thought perhaps you might change your mind?" he asks shyly, finally looking back again to meet Rodney's gaze.

"Well, I'm sure the Countess will be able to make things fine for you--" Rodney trails off, unable to look away from those hazel eyes.

"Rodney--," the Colonel interrupts, surprising him by stepping a little closer, "there isn't going to be a Countess."

"There isn't?" Rodney whispers, nearly exploding from the burst of pure want take have sweeping through his body.

"No," Sheppard admits, a small grin tugging at the corners of his mouth.

"I don't understand," Rodney says stupidly.

"Well, we've called off our engagement you see, and--"

"You have?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Well, I can't very well marry her when I'm--," Sheppard says, swallowing hard before he finishes his sentence, "--in love with someone else. Can I?"

"No," Rodney huffs, crossing his arms in a defensive gesture, valiantly trying to keep his composure. "No, you certainly can't." For a moment there he had thought that-- but of course that would be ridiculous.

The Colonel wouldn't want him. He's probably met some stupid space bimbo on one of his travels and hooked up with her. She must have convinced him to keep Rodney on to take care of the children, so she wouldn't have to do it. Because let's be honest. Big breasted space bimbo's didn't marry men like the Colonel for the silly notion of loving him and his 2.4 kids.

By the Ancients, why does unrequited love feel like someone reaching into his chest and just ripping his heart out, right there on the spot? He so needs to get away from here.

"Colonel, I'm going to go now, because I really have no desire to listen to your sad sob-story of dumping one woman to marry another. So there you have it--," he says, turning around swiftly, only to be stopped by Sheppard as the man grabs Rodney's arm and pulls him closer again.

"Damn, Rodney, you can be such an oblivious idiot sometimes--," the Colonel says, smiling dopily at him before he gently cups Rodney's face with his free hand and leans closer. "I guess I'll just have to show you then."

And--

Oh

So maybe the space bimbo is actually a brilliant, but somewhat stubborn genius, Rodney muses in that millisecond before Sheppard's mouth is close enough to bridge the gap. And then he forgets everything. Nothing else matters anymore as he's standing there, immobile in the middle of Ancient ruins. The only sensation that of soft insistent lips on his own. Teeth tugging and worrying on his lower lip until Rodney opens his mouth with a moan and a rough tongue is sneaking inside, exploring--tasting.

Then he suddenly remembers, there's something he needs to do first. Before this goes any further, he needs to--

"Wait, wait," he says, pushing at Sheppard's chest, gently shoving him away.

Confused, Sheppard shoots him the wounded puppy dog look and oh no-that isn't going to work. Not this time.

"Oh please, you really think that ridiculous pout will still work on me now?" Rodney asks.

"Yes," Sheppard replies, smirking slightly.

"Haha," Rodney snarks, before looking serious again. "Actually, it probably will," he honestly admits. "But, that's not the point."

"Then what is the point? And could you get there really fast so we can continue with the good stuff?" the Colonel urges.

"The good stuff? What are you? Sixteen going on seventeen?" Rodney mocks, rolling his eyes at Sheppard.

"Listen," Rodney starts again, his voice a little tense, "can I just say something here before we go back to the-- you know," he says, making some kind of obscene gesture with his left hand.

"The good stuff?" Sheppard says, sending Rodney a devilish grin.

"Whatever," Rodney sighs, before indulging Sheppard. "before we get to the good stuff. I just wanted-- I mean-- I always refused, but that was more of a safety mechanism and-- well I just--" Rodney stutters.

"Rodney, what are you talking about?" Sheppard asks, finally getting a little annoyed with all the talking and not kissing going on.

"I just-- I want to say," Rodney sighs, breathing deeply before grabbing the Colonel's shoulder with his left hand and cupping his face with his right. "John."

Stunned, John softly whispers: "Say it again."

"John," he says, causing John to moan out loud.

"John," he repeats, a giant grin blooming on his face as John sends him a dopey boyish smile.

"John," he breathes as John sneaks one hand behind his back and rests the other one gently on the nape of his neck.

"John," he shudders when John softly whispers his name in his ear, followed by a confession. "Rodney, I think-- I'm in love with you."

"John," he sighs when John caresses his face by placing tiny butterfly kisses on every available patch of skin until he finally reaches his goal and gently works Rodney's mouth open by licking Rodney's crooked lips insistently. Their tongues meet once again as Rodney reverses the roles and thrusts inside John's mouth, tasting him.

"John," he moans when their bodies come close enough to feel every reaction the kiss is instigating.

And why didn't anyone ever tell him that kissing feels so incredibly good? If he had known, he'd have left the abbey years ago to experiment freely. Because this? By the Ancients--so incredibly amazing.

Slowly disentangling himself from Rodney, John asks "Maybe we should continue this inside?"

"Yeah, we probably should," Rodney pants, slamming the palm of his hand on the rock to obscure the ruins once again. He immediately grabs John's hand and starts pulling him towards the house.

"Wow, Rodney. Slow down for a moment. We have all the time in the world," John grins. "Time? Time, Colonel, is exactly what I don't have," Rodney huffs, walking a little faster. "Thirty-six years of repression here and I'll be damned if I'm going to add another day to that. We'll tell the children in the morning, but right now, you and I are going to exchange bodily fluids- lots of them."

"Oh really?" John asks, highly amused.

"Yes really. And I'd wipe that lunatic grin off my face if I were you Colonel. Because one important trait of a prodigy is their ability to quickly assimilate new theoretical information and find out all the ways they can use it in the practical field," he says, leering at John.

"Well then, by all means-- lead on, genius," John huskily whispers in Rodney's ear, taking his earlobe between his teeth and tugging it gently.

"Oh I will, John," Rodney mutters as they reach the house. "I most certainly will."

~*~

"John, Father Caldwell once told me that when the Ancients close a hatch somewhere, they close another door too and-- no, wait a minute. Let me just -uhm- yeah, I'll try that one again, because that's not what he said -obviously--," Rodney mutters, feeling his face turn all red when he hears people snickering around him. Desperately digging through his pockets to search for the scrap of paper that holds his vows, he sneaks a look at John standing in front of him, afraid to find disappointment in his eyes. But when his eyes finally meet John's, there's nothing there but a bit of silent amusement and a lot of awe.

Rodney still can't believe he's here. The first couple of weeks after John's proposal, Rodney kept expecting the Colonel to tell him that he changed his mind about spending his life with a stocky, annoying former-monk-wannabe. But that never happened. John just kept sending Rodney that adorable goofy grin of his and life went on.

Why does the Colonel want to be with him? Yes, Rodney's genius is unparalleled, and John would certainly miss the intelligent conversations, but -let's face it- if John wanted to, he could get anyone he set his mind on. Of course-- Rodney's not planning on making John see the error of his ways any time soon. When it comes to this, Rodney's incredibly selfish. He wants the Colonel all to himself, and the Athosian joining ceremony will make that happen.

It's the closest to a real wedding they'll ever get, since some people on Earth have silly beliefs about being able to control who you fall in love with. Sadly enough, that part of Earth politics has spread throughout the Pegasus Galaxy, making it impossible for them to get married legally.

The ceremony is an ancient ritual. One of the few that -luckily- doesn't require cow dung and dead chickens, because hello- unsanitary!

The ritual will bind them together for the rest of their lives. And that's probably the scariest adventure Rodney's ever embarked upon, but he's willing to go through with it, with all his heart. That's how much he's in love. Not just with John, but also with the children.

After he and John spent their first night together, now a couple of months ago, they had decided to tell the kids, and their reaction had been priceless. Those seven brats just took it in stride, like it was the most normal thing ever for their father to hook up with their male nanny.

"Children, we have something to tell you," John started. "Something unexpected happened last night and you have to understand-"

Snorting out loud, Rodney interrupted the Colonel. "Puh-lease."

"Rodney--" John said, lowering his voice. "I thought we decided that I should handle this."

"Yeah-- well, if that's the way you're planning on telling them, I might take a little nap first. I'm sure you'll have stopped skirting around the issue by the time I wake up again." Rodney said smugly.

"I'm not skirting around the issue," John snapped. "I would never--"

"Okay, not that this isn't entertaining to watch, but could someone please tell us what's going on?" Laura interfered.

"Yeah," John said, focusing on his task again. "See, sometimes things happen and--"

"Oh, for the love of the Ancients!" Rodney shouted, throwing his hands in the air. "Do I have to do everything myself?"

Before the Colonel had a chance to react, Rodney pulled him closer by grabbing the front of his shirt and proceeded to kiss him senseless in front of the children. A few moments later, he released a slightly dazed colonel, looking back towards the children.

"This is what happened last night, and this is what'll happen lots and lots of times more in the future. So, if you have a problem with me kissing your father, I suggest you suck it up and get used to it," he said, sending the kids a smug look, daring them to utter a negative comment.

"Well," Laura finally said, eyes still as big as saucers but a saucy grin floating around the edges of her mouth. "I have to say Rodney, way to go. I've heard from the Countess that father's quite the catch."

Non-plussed, Rodney fixed his gaze upon her until she started squirming around uncomfortably. "One: yes, your father is quite the catch indeed, but then -I have recently learned- so am I. And two: that woman's name or title will never be spoken of again in my presence. Understood?"

"Jealous much, Rodney?" Laura chuckles.

Gearing up for a verbal battle, Rodney opened his mouth, but was prematurely interrupted by Katie.

"Mr. Wodney?"

Taking a deep breath to calm himself, Rodney crouched down to be at eye-level with the little girl. "Yes, Katie? What is it?"

"Do I have to call you mommy now?"

"W-what?" Rodney spluttered, looking up at John desperately. His desperation quickly changed to annoyance when he saw how John was trying to smother his laughter by biting his lower lip.

"Well," the girl continued, "You are going to be together with daddy now, so there's always one daddy and one mommy. We already have a daddy and that makes you the mommy."

"Katie, I'm flattered for sure, but--" Rodney started, before he was interrupted by John.

"Honey, come here," John said more seriously, reaching out his hand towards Katie, who immediately obliged.

Leading her to the couch, John sat down and pulled the little girl on his lap. "Honey, Mommy died a while ago now, and she will always be your one and only mommy. But Rodney--" he said, fixing his gaze on Rodney for a moment, "Rodney's special. He'll never be your mommy, but if you want-- he can be another daddy to you. You can keep calling him Rodney or if you want we'll come up with another word for daddy and you can call him that."

Nodding slowly, Katie looked back at Rodney. "I think I'll just call you Wodney," she shyly said, before sliding from her father's lap. Quickly making her way towards Rodney and giving him a sloppy wet kiss on the cheek.

And that wasn't a tear rolling down his cheek. Nope, not at all. He'll deny it until the day he dies.

Katie's acceptance seemed to cause some kind of reaction in the rest of the children as they all -one by one- came over to Rodney to kiss him on the cheek before they started chattering excitedly. Telling Rodney and John how much they liked the idea of Rodney staying for good.

"Rodney?" John's voice jerks him back to the present. Oh yes, he was in the middle of saying his vows.

"Uhm-- oh screw it. John, I had this entire speech prepared with a lot of sickeningly sweet mushy stuff that is apparently required in ceremonies like this, but-- I just, I think I just need to tell you that I love you and I want to thank you for giving me something that I've never had before. The fact that you're standing here today, ready to spend the rest of your days with me-- it humbles me in a way that I've never felt before. So, thank you for teaching me about humility and how good it can feel to be loved," Rodney finishes.

He knows that he's grinning stupidly at John right now, but see if he cares. This gorgeous man is going to be completely his, so he has the right to gloat a little.

"Rodney," John starts, "There was a time when I was convinced someone could only truly love once in a lifetime, so when Teyla died, I kinda gave up hope. And by the time you came along, I-- it's just-- you showed me how to live again, by loving my children and by constantly bugging me to keep on my toes. You offered something I haven't had in a really long time. You offered me a first time, Rodney. I have loved, but I have never fallen in love with a guy before. I never thought I could either-- until I met you. Somehow, it didn't matter what or who you were. You were just you-- Rodney McKay, and I love you for that," he softly whispers.

But Rodney's brain is still stuck on the way John thanked him for a first time, because Rodney remembers a first time too and this is neither a good time nor place to think of-- that. But he can't stop the sound bites and images floating through his mind.

"Oh yes, John-- just--"

As John swallowed his cock on their first night together.

John slicking him up, pushing his fingers in, digit after digit, stretching him, loosening him up until he settled between Rodney's legs, slowly pushing his cock inside of him and--

Oh--

--so good.

"Ancients-- feels so good Rodney. So good," John panted, fucking him ever so slowly.

John, bracing himself against the wall, widening his stance, offering up his ass as he looked over his shoulder and challenged Rodney with his eyes, sending him his best come-hither look.

And Rodney complied, John's eyes still locked to his, practically ordering him to hurry up already.

The sensation of pouring the oil on his hands, pushing his fingers deeply inside. John moving his hips to the rhythm of his finger's movements-riding his fingers, craving it--wanting it so badly that he kept moaning and begging for Rodney to just--

"Do it."

And Rodney watched how John started fondling his dick, thrusting out his ass even further.

It didn't take Rodney very long to get with the program, as he quickly slicked up his cock and pushed the head gently inside. But apparently, John didn't like to wait too long, because he shoved back hard, taking in Rodney's cock to the hilt.

"John. Just--Oh fuck!" Rodney yelled, as he started rocking back and forth, thrusting in deeper and harder every time, until he had set a quick pace, fucking John senseless, not really caring about anything but getting off anymore.

Rodney almost clung to John's lean hips, digging in his fingers, immobilizing John in order to thrust even harder. John just moaned out loud at first, before he started making little mewling noises, causing Rodney to go out of his mind with lust.

He trailed his right hand across John's abdomen and snuck it between his legs, firmly grasping John's cock, jerking it in time to his thrusts until he could feel John coming all over his hand. After that, the world narrowed down to his dick pounding in and out of John's ass and when he finally came fast and hard, Rodney stopped thinking altogether, which was something that had never happened to him before.

Afterwards, when they were lying in bed sated, cocooned under the blankets, John's head on Rodney's chest and their legs entangled intimately, Rodney confessed to John that making love to him made him forget about everything else. Oddly exhilarated, John just looked up and kissed him softly, telling him that he had the same reaction when they were together.

"It must really be love," he had whispered softly, before setting his head back on Rodney's chest again.

"Yeah, it really must be," Rodney had answered, softly caressing John's back with his thumb.

Rodney wills himself to focus on John's eyes in an attempt to calm his rising libido. It will not do to stand in front of all these people with a giant hard-on, so he takes long calming breaths and slowly his arousal diminishes.

"Rodney McKay and John Sheppard," the Athosian priest finally says, "you have both been proven worthy to be bound in a union for life. So, I now declare that, in the eyes of our Ancestors: the mighty Ancients, you are no longer two people, but one entity, one person, one love from now until eternity."

The declaration is soon followed by wild cheering and lots of applause. And as John gently cradles Rodney's face in his hands and kisses him passionately, a few cat-calls rise up from the crowd.

~*~

Just when John thinks that nothing at all can disturb this happy day, a familiar voice calls his name, sending cold chills down his spine.

"Mr. Sheppard."

"Cowen," John says, cautiously taking in the man standing in front of him.

"Well, it seems that congratulations are in order, Sheppard," Cowen says, smiling pleasantly at him.

"Forgive me for not feeling all too grateful for your wishes, Cowen," John says, deceptively charming, sending Cowen a cool grin.

"Well-- I'm not here to talk about your new-bride," Cowen says, amusement seeping through, only annoying John even more. "I'm here to talk business. A couple of months ago, I told you that I was forming my army to go after the rebel Wraith. Today, I've come to tell you that the preparations have been finished and we're leaving within two days. I expect you to be at the base of operations by tomorrow evening," he finishes matter-of-factly.

Snorting out loud, John just looks at Cowen. "You're kidding right? I just got married, for the Ancients' sakes. I can't leave my family now."

"Yes, well-- that's too bad because you should know by now, Mr. Sheppard, that I never kid- never," Cowen says, smiling back at him condescendingly.

"I'm not doing it," John replies, anger seeping through every word. "I've finally got a life again. I'm not going to do anything to jeopardize that."

"Ah--, Mr. Sheppard, I'm afraid you don't have a choice," Cowen says, grabbing John's shoulder, pulling him closer and gripping hard, before John has a chance to recoil from his touch. "You see-- I don't like it when people give me their word and then try to back out of it. Now, I want you to focus on your lovely new husband for a moment," he adds, waiting until he sees John's eyes involuntarily shift towards Rodney.

"See that man of yours? See who's standing next to him?"

Oh no--

Mortified John watches how Kolya approaches Rodney, grabbing his hand briefly to congratulate him on the union. He sees how Rodney confusedly stares at Kolya, having never seen the man before. But then Kolya says something and Rodney's eyes clear up and he happily starts chatting.

"Yes, Colonel-- That's my faithful Kolya standing next to your husband. And you know what he's capable of-- Am I right?" Cowen asks in an innocent voice.

John feels his blood running cold as the unspoken threat is processed in his mind. Rodney--

"Rodney--," he whispers.

"Yes," Cowen hisses. "Nothing will be left of your precious Rodney when Kolya's finished with him. He'll tear him limb from limb, but not before he's taken his pleasure with him. After all, if the man is able to snag you, Sheppard-well, he must really be an extremely good fuck. Hell, maybe I'll have a little taste for myself too. Although I have to admit, I'm more partial to that lovely daughter of yours. What's her name again--hmm--Laura? She's quite exquisite," he whispers in John's ear.

"You filthy son of a bitch!" John snaps as he gathers his strength and roughly pushes Cowen away from him. "I'll be there. Just stay away from my family."

"But naturally, Colonel. I wouldn't dream of hurting one of my co-workers or his family in any way," Cowen says, grinning viciously. "I'll see you tomorrow."

Breathing in deeply, John watches how Cowen quickly leaves the party, immediately followed by Kolya, who leaves a confused Rodney behind as he walks out in the middle of his diatribe.

~*~

"Are you insane?!" Rodney yells at him, when they're finally alone again in the evening.

"Rodney--"

"No. No, John. You don't get to do this. You don't get to Rodney me over this. I just got married to you and already you're planning on leaving me? This isn't what I signed up for! I didn't sign up to become a war-widow!"

"Technically, you'd be a widower," John interjects, cringing slightly when he realises how bad that must have sounded.

"Oh yes, and that makes me feel a whole lot better, Colonel. Fantastic!" Rodney sarcastically replies.

"Look, this is the only way to make sure that you and the kids are safe. Okay? I don't have any other choice," John softly says, burying his face in his hands.

"John," Rodney says, gently reaching for his hands and tugging them away from his face, "You are truly stupid sometimes, you know that? If you think that I'm just going to stand back and watch you get killed on some distant planet, you're wrong. So, luckily you're married to a genius. A good genius always has a plan."

"Plan?" John asks, sounding vaguely interested.

"Yeah. Granted, I could have come up with something better if we had more time, but this could work-- I think," Rodney says.

"What plan?"

"We run," Rodney states simply, already anticipating John's negative reaction. "And don't you even dare to act all indignant now. I assure you that the Sheppard honour will suffer far worse if you just leave us behind. We also both know that Cowen and his men will come after you if you don't show up tomorrow. He'll want revenge and what better way to punish you than to go after those you love the most. It isn't safe for us to stay anymore, John. It's too dangerous for the children-- and for us, too."

"If we leave, we'll have nothing left. I'd have to abandon Sanctuary and all my other belongings, otherwise it'd be far too easy to track us. I've lived here my entire life. This is my family's inheritance. The company- I don't even know--," John trails off. "Next to that, running isn't exactly what you signed up for, Rodney," he adds, gently dragging his thumb down Rodney's cheek.

"John, you moron. I didn't sign up for your money or your -granted- gorgeous mansion. I signed up for your kids--," Rodney smiles.

"Hey," John softly protests.

"--oh yeah, and you of course," he adds, pulling John's face a little closer and kissing him gently. "And I'll be damned if I have to give you up again. I won't. I just won't."

Seeing the intensity of Rodney's determination written all over his face, John realises that if it comes down to it, he's perfectly willing to give all his material comforts up in order to spend the rest of his days on the run. As long as Rodney and the kids are there, he'll be fine. "Okay, we'll do it your way," he finally relents. "What do you have in mind?"

"Well, we'll need Radek's help for this, but I don't think that'll be a problem. It goes like this--"

~*~

The next day the plan is set in motion. John contacts Radek who is immediately prepared to help them out by admitting them to the science contest at the last minute. Being one of the main organisers, Radek can easily persuade the officials to accept another entry with such late notice. Radek also immediately agrees to take over Shepships and look after Sanctuary for as long as they're gone, promising John to never reveal the existence of the Ancient ruins to a single soul.

It's early in the afternoon when the entire family gathers in the front garden where John takes a moment to talk to them.

"Okay, you guys. Leaving our home like this is difficult. I know. And I can't make any guarantees you'll ever come back here, but this is the only way to make sure we can stay together as a family. All we have to do is follow the plan and we'll be fine." John says, looking at the smaller children. "Aiden, Peter, Sam, Katie? Do you understand?"

"Yeah, Dad," Aiden softly says, strangely focused and serious for a change. "We understand."

"Good, let's do it then," he continues, looking over at Rodney, taking his hand and squeezing it briefly. "We're good to go."

Quickly attaching the box containing the Sailplane to the 'jumper, they all move to get in.

"Mr. Sheppard," a voice suddenly interrupts them.

"Kolya," John says, without turning around, immediately recognising the voice.

"I hope you and your dear family are not planning on taking a long vacation far away from home?" he asks.

"Not at all, Kolya. I'm merely planning on spending some quality time with my family before I have to leave tonight," John replies, turning around to face Kolya. "Is that allowed?"

"Colonel, I have my eye on you. You'd better not wander off too far, because if that happens your family will pay," Kolya whispers after he's stepped up very close to John.

"Mr. Kolya," Rodney interrupts. "Would you kindly get you filthy mitts off my husband? Isn't it bad enough that you're taking him away from me so soon? Let him spend some time together with his family before your boss requires his assistance," he spits out, shoving Kolya away from John.

"Well, well, Sheppard, seems you picked out a feisty one," he smiles condescendingly before focusing his gaze on Rodney. "Go ahead, have your little- family moment. After all, it'll have to hold you up for a very very long time to come. Just don't forget, we're watching you," he adds, sneering at Rodney while pointing at John and the kids. "All of you."

Without waiting for a reply, Kolya turns around and stalks off again.

"All right," John says, breaking the uncomfortable silence afterwards. "Let's go."

A few moments later the puddlejumper flies off towards Atlantis, to the science fair.

~*~

"Well, that certainly was-- interesting invention, Mr. Parrish. I am sure all plants of this world will appreciate your ingenuity," Radek says, after the applause dies down for the next to last contestant of the fair.

"And now for last entry. This one is special because is family endeavour. The seven children of Colonel John Sheppard worked hard to build their father something special and what they finally came up with was stunning. Of course, they didn't do all this work alone. They got help from their -at that time- nanny and now husband of Colonel: Rodney McKay!"

On cue Rodney and the children step onto the stage in the middle of the Atlantis-arena.

"Now you are all wondering where they are hiding invention. Well, I advise all of you to look up to North Tower of city. As you all know, that tower is highest point of Atlantis. Right now, Colonel Sheppard is up there, ready to take giant leap of faith, flying the beautiful Sailplane that was built by his family."

Everyone in the arena, except for Rodney and Radek, look up to the tower at the same time. Anxiously, Rodney checks out the crowd, looking for Kolya's familiar ugly mug, but he doesn't see him anywhere, and that just makes him even more nervous then he already is.

It's only when a collective murmur runs through the crowd that Rodney finally looks up. And for a moment, he forgets it all, because there, high in the sky, John is gracefully manoeuvring the Sailplane into all kinds of formations. And it's absolutely beautiful. Rodney might never know who will officially win the fair -although the jury would have to consist of morons to not to choose the Sailplane-, but he doesn't really care, because right now he already feels like a true winner.

"Rodney," Radek says, suddenly standing next to him. "It is time to go. The 'jumper is set to take you and children directly to abbey where John will meet you."

"Yeah," Rodney whispers, nodding at Radek. "Thank you."

"Is all okay, friend. You just take care of each other- yes?"

"Yeah, we will. So long Radek," Rodney says, looking up one last time and then grabbing Katie and Sam's hand as he and the children silently retreat from the stage.

With a wistful look, Radek follows them with his eyes. He's going to miss that family very much. But, above all, the show must go on, so he pastes on his best smile and turns back to the crowd, ready to announce the final surprise act.

~*~

"Where the hell is he, Carson?!" Rodney yells anxiously. "He should have been here by now."

"Hush, Rodney, don't let the children hear you," Carson quietly admonishes his friend.

"Oh by the Ancients, what if he's been captured by Cowen and his men? Or worse. What if he's dead?"

"Rodney, it's no good thinking like that. You need to calm down. I'm sure the Colonel just had a temporary setback, but he'll be here in the end."

"He'd better be. There's no way I'm ever going to forgive the bastard if he dies on me now," Rodney spits out.

"Oh Rodney, that's not a--," Carson begins, before he's interrupted by another brother who's anxiously running towards him. "Brother Lorne? What is it?"

"Carson," Lorne pants. "They're here."

"Who's here?" Carson asks, slightly confused.

"Cowen and his men. Cowen's very angry, Carson. He just keeps ranting about the Colonel flying off, trying to escape-- and how no one runs out on him and lives to tell the tale. There's this man with him- Kola or something like that."

"Kolya," Rodney whispers.

"Yes, that's it, Kolya. Cowen ordered him to find the Colonel and kill him. He told him to make the Colonel pay and if he happened to come across his family, he was allowed to--" Lorne trails off, his eyes darting towards the kids across the room.

"Oh no--," Rodney mutters, becoming paler and paler by the second. "Carson, what are we going to do?"

"We'll have to hide you," Father Caldwell suddenly interjects.

"Father?" Rodney asks a little desperately.

"Rodney, we'll hide you in the garden, behind the tombs of those who went before us. They won't bother to look there. You'll be safe."

"But John--," Rodney starts.

"As soon as he arrives we'll make sure he's safe. I give you my word," the Abbot says.

"Thank you, Father," Rodney says, before running across the room towards the children, silently urging them to follow him and the Abbot.

~*~

To Rodney it feels like they've been hiding behind the tombs forever, when in reality only fifteen minutes have passed. The hardest thing was to make sure the children kept quiet, and the most nerve-wracking moment was when Katie accidentally sneezed and one of Cowen's men came a little too close for comfort.

Suddenly, fast footsteps come towards them and Carson appears behind the tombs.

"They're gone," he smiles. "We successfully misled them into believing that you were not here."

"Oh, thank the Ancients," Rodney mutters, hugging Peter -who had snuggled up close to him- tightly.

"Well, well, isn't that a lovely scene," a deep voice suddenly calls out, freezing Rodney in his efforts to squeeze out from behind the tombstones. "Seems part of the Sheppard family got lost for a little while, but at last they're found again."

"Kolya," Rodney snaps.

"Yes, Mr. McKay-- or do you prefer Sheppard now?" Kolya sneers at him. "Come out from behind the tombs and no tricks, or I'll have to practice my knife-throwing skills on one of the children."

"Okay, okay!" Rodney yells, his eyes meeting Carson's desperate gaze. "We'll come out. Just don't hurt the kids."

"Don't worry McKay, you are only a means to an end. If I have you and the children, I'm sure the Colonel won't be too far behind," he says, fondling the hilt of a large knife hanging loosely on his side.

Crawling from behind the tombstones, Rodney briefly closes his eyes, knowing without a doubt that Kolya is right about one thing. John'll come and there's just no way he sees this ending happily.

~*~

After heavy turbulence John is finally able to land the Sailplane -a little gracelessly- on a large field next to the abbey. Swiftly undoing all the gear, he checks the time.

"Damn," he mutters, realising he's way past the time they agreed to meet.

The only thing Rodney hadn't counted on when he explained his elaborate escape plan to John was the weather. In the higher layers of the atmosphere, the weather wasn't favourable to flying a glider- at all.

Patting the Sailplane on the side one last time he takes off towards the abbey. Radek'll take care of the plane and keep it in storage for him, so he doesn't need to worry about that.

He's about to enter the abbey through a small side door Carson told him about when he hears a voice that makes his blood run cold.

"Kolya," he whispers.

What he hears next makes him sprint in a frenzy towards the back garden. Because a high pitched scream of pain just originated from there and it sounded suspiciously like Rodney. If that bastard hurt Rodney in any way--

"Leave him alone!" Laura screams.

"Laura, it's okay. Don't worry," Rodney's voice pipes up.

"No, Rodney," Laura sobs. "Please, just let him go."

"Ah, children having to watch their parents suffer is always hard. But you will soon learn that in life certain sacrifices have to be made," Kolya responds in a thoughtful tone.

It's then that John finally reaches the edge of the garden and cautiously approaches the gate to check out the situation. What he sees makes him cringe. An ache settles high in his chest as he takes in Rodney sitting on his knees on the ground, cradling his left arm close to his abdomen. Kolya is standing next to him with a big knife, dripping with blood. And witnesses to it all, Carson and the children, all white as sheets, eyes wet with tears.

A blood red haze settles in front of his eyes. Kolya hurt his family after John took an oath he would never let anything happen to them. Time for payback.

Grabbing his gun tightly, he steps into full sight from behind the garden wall. "KOLYA!" he yells.

Spinning around quickly, Kolya greets him with a sloppy salute. "Colonel," he says. "How nice of you to finally show up. I was already starting to fear you wouldn't come at all. Of course, then I would have had no other choice then to take care of your husband and children."

"You get away from them," John spits out venomously, pointing his weapon straight at Kolya.

"Tell you what, Colonel. Let's make a trade. I give you your family and you give me your life," Kolya says, holding his knife against Rodney's neck. "That sounds like a very satisfactory agreement. Don't you think?"

"Oh yeah, you make it sound so appealing," John says, sarcasm dripping from every word.

"Maybe I just haven't given you the right incentive yet," Kolya smiles, grinning cruelly, before pulling back the knife a little, grabbing Rodney's wounded arm and squeezing it tight enough for Rodney to scream out in agony.

"Stop it!" John yells, scared for Rodney's life. "All right. Fine. We'll do it your way."

"No, John, don't," Rodney says, slowly pulling himself together before he sends John a pleading gaze.

"Shut up, McKay, this is between me and your husband," Kolya says, harshly shoving Rodney back to the ground. "So, what's taking you so long, Colonel? Put down the gun."

"All right, all right. Hold your horses. I'm putting it down," John says, his chest painfully constricting when he hears his children crying out for him.

"Daddy, no!" Chaya yells, trying to run to him, but held back by Ronon's strong arms.

Good boy--

"You have to promise to let them go," he tells Kolya.

"I promise you, Colonel, on my honour, that no hair on their heads will be harmed."

"How do I know you'll keep that promise?" John asks.

"You don't," Kolya says, grinning like a maniac. "You'll just have to take my word for it. That's the offer. Take it or leave it."

"Very well, then," John finally agrees, seeing no other or safer way out of this.

"Good, then we have a deal. Now, if you'd be so kind to get down on your knees," Kolya orders.

"No, you can't do this," Rodney pipes up, voice desperate and angry. "You son of a bitch."

"Be quiet, McKay or I'll take back my promise, and you'll get to watch all the pretty children die before I kill you with my bare hands."

Dammit, Rodney--

"Kolya, it's me you want!" John yells, kicking his gun towards Kolya before he cautiously lowers himself to the ground. "Rodney, you have to shut up now! I love you, but for once in your life-- listen to me and shut up! You have to let this happen."

"No! No, John, You stupid, moronic bastard. You're not doing this!" Rodney yells back.

"Rodney," John softly says, fixing his gaze on him. "Please, just -for once- go along with this. Stay alive and take care of the children for me."

"John-- You can't--" Rodney says, his voice cracking as he's unable to finish the sentence.

"Kids!" John shouts, focusing his attention on the children. "Listen to Rodney. He'll take care of you."

"No, Daddy!" Laura wails.

"Laura, it'll be okay," he says.

"Well, this is all very touching," Kolya interrupts, picking up John's gun. "But right now, it's time to say bye-bye, Colonel," he sneers, as he walks closer to John until he's standing right in front of him, and puts the barrel of the gun to John's head.

Squeezing his eyes tightly shut, bracing for impact, John falls back when a loud bang fills his senses.

Oh--

Is this what it feels like to be dead?

But then--

"John! John!"

Why is there someone with Rodney's voice shaking him and yelling at him?

Cautiously he opens up his eyes, only to be confronted by Rodney's sky blue gaze.

"Rodney?" he whispers.

"Yeah," Rodney says, "it's me."

"Are you dead too?" John asks, confused.

"No, John-- you're not dead."

"Not dead, but I heard--"

"Yes, that was a gun, but it wasn't the one pointed at you," Rodney says a little sadly. "It was the one pointed at Kolya."

"You shot Kolya?" John asks incredulously.

"No, I didn't," Rodney says.

"Then who--," John trails off as he takes in the scene around him. Kolya's body in a growing puddle of blood. His own gun lying next to the body and another gun lying on the ground next to -by the Ancients- no.

"Ronon," John whispers. "Oh no."

"I took it from the house, Dad," Ronon explains as he moves closer and sits down next to his father. Rodney makes a quick retreat, sensing that father and son need a brief moment together. "I figured it could come in handy if we got into trouble," Ronon continues.

"Ronon, you stupid silly boy. What the hell were you thinking, stealing a gun?" John says angrily.

"Dad," Ronon answers defensively. "I'm fourteen. I'm not a little kid anymore. I knew what I was doing when I took it. I'm not going to apologize for it, either. Because without that gun you might have-- I'm just-- I'm not sorry that I used it. I'm not- Dad."

"I've-- I've always wanted to spare my children from situations like this," John softly explains, vaguely pointing towards Kolya's body. "It seems I failed."

"No, Dad, you didn't fail us. It was my choice. It has nothing to do with you," Ronon says, glancing down to the ground, hesitating for a moment before shyly adding, "Do you hate me now?"

"Ronon, buddy, look at me" John says, his voice rough with emotion as he gently grabs his son's chin and tilts up his face. "Come here," he adds, tugging Ronon closer and hugging him tight while he fiercely whispers in his ear. "I love you. Do you hear me? I love you, and nothing that you do could ever make me hate you- ever!"

"I hate to break this up, but John-- you have to go," Carson tentatively says. "Cowen could still come back to check up on Kolya."

Patting his son's shoulder one last time, John looks up at Carson. "You have to get rid of the body, Carson. There's no guarantee what Cowen will do when he finds one of his most trusted officers dead on the abbey's grounds."

"John," Carson says tentatively, "you are a good friend. You know that, but I can't do what you ask of me. This is an abbey and we're all monks. We can't just get rid of a body. Then we wouldn't honour our own beliefs."

"Carson," John says, dragging his hands through his hair, "the man is a criminal. You have no idea what he's done in his life. The things I've heard and seen are--"

"That may very well be," Carson interrupts, "But, this man will get a proper burial and send off nonetheless. Don't worry. I'll talk to the Abbot and we'll find some explanation to feed Cowen when he returns for Kolya. We'll be fine."

"Very well then," John says relenting. "Do it your way. Still-- thank you for everything, Carson."

"You're welcome," Carson answers, grinning a little. "It's all in the hard day's work of a monk."

"We should leave right away," John suddenly says, getting up swiftly, walking over to Rodney and wearily eyeing the way Rodney cradles his arm. "How are you holding up?"

"I'm fine. Granted, I have been better and quite frankly, this entire running for my life thing doesn't seem to be something I'm cut out for, but now that you're here, I can deal," Rodney says, conveying his conviction by looking John straight in the eye. "So let's get out of here."

Grinning softly at him, John realises that what he's about to say might not be the best idea he ever had, but he just can't stop himself. "That was quite a scream you let out there for such a little cut, McKay."

"A little cut?" Rodney says, pursing his lips, glaring at John. "I'll have you know, Colonel, that--"

All the way from the garden to the hidden puddlejumper in the woods behind the abbey, the silence is broken only by Rodney's complaining, moaning and bitching. And when Carson finally waves goodbye to them as the 'jumper flies off, he swears he can still hear Rodney talking in his head all the way back to the abbey. So he does the only thing that actually works to drown out Rodney's voice. He sings.

"The hiiiiiiiiiiiiiills are alive with the sound of music--"

Epilogue:

"Are they sleeping?" Rodney asks after John has put the children to bed. He gets up from the pilot chair and gives it up to John, as he settles himself in the seat next to him.

"Yeah, I tucked them in in the back with some blankets and pillows. They were asleep within seconds," John says, yawning deeply.

"Yes, well-- busy day."

"Yeah, tell me about it."

"What took you so long to arrive at the abbey anyway?" Rodney asks.

"Well, it seems the weather didn't want me to arrive on time," John explains.

"The weather? Oh-- so the Sailplane worked fine?"

"Like a charm."

"Excellent," Rodney says, grinning smugly.

Snorting, John says, "You do realise that you'll probably never see that plane again."

"Yeah, but at least I know now that it actually works."

"Well, you tested it, so you had some idea," John says.

"Tested it?" Rodney chuckles. "When would I have found the time to test it? What? In between caring for your children and making sure they didn't kill themselves in the process of building the plane, I had my hands full."

"What are you saying?" John asks incredulously. "You didn't test it-- at all?"

"No."

"Are you insane?!" John whispers harshly to not wake up the children. "You let me jump off the highest building in Atlantis in an experimental plane that was never tested."

"Well yes, but all the plans were correct so it should have flown perfectly-- in theory."

"In theory," John practically fumes, looking back through the viewing screen, muttering to himself, "You're crazy. I married a crazy scientist."

"Oh, come on. I wouldn't have let you fly the damn thing if I hadn't at least been ninety percent certain that it could carry you. I'm not that anxious to get rid of you," Rodney spits out, annoyed now. "Besides, you're here now, aren't you? We're both here, flying to some far outback of some distant galaxy to hide away from the psycho people. Isn't that enough?"

Still scowling and grumbling softly, John mutters under his breath, "'spose so."

"Good, then we can get to the make-up sex now."

"What?!"

"Yes, we just had our first real argument, and that calls for memorable make-up sex," Rodney states matter-of-factly.

"Rodney-- we've had a million arguments ever since we met," John says, staring at him a little oddly.

"Yes, yes, but never one as big as this," Rodney huffs. "Besides, we hardly knew each other back then, so that doesn't count. I've only started counting from the moment I realised I'd fallen in love with you."

"When was that?" John suddenly asks, taking a deep breath to calm down again.

"Well, around the time that you told me you recognized me by listening to my footsteps."

"That long ago-- huh?" John asks softly.

"Yeah, that long ago," Rodney admits, looking at John. "How could I not? You're gorgeous. Do you know that?"

"Rodney--"

"No. You really are. Stunning, inside as well as outside," Rodney says, blushing a little, slightly embarrassed by his emotional reaction.

"You know what?" John finally says, still mesmerized by Rodney's eyes.

"What?"

"Time for the make-up sex," John says as he reaches for Rodney, grabbing him by the nape of his neck and tugging him closer.

"Oh, thank the Ancients," Rodney sighs, before he closes the gap, crashing his lips hungrily against John's.

The puddlejumper flies further into the darkness of space, its final destination unknown, except to the occupants, who all live happily ever after in a galaxy far far away.


comment in my LiveJournal // send me an e-mail // back to SGA fic