A Different Kind of Family by kez
featured storySummary: Widower John Sheppard wants the best for his daughter, so moves them the only home she's ever known and gets a job as housekeeper for the sometimes acerbic Doctor Rodney McKay.
Categories: Stargate Atlantis Characters: Elizabeth Weir, John Sheppard, John Sheppard/Rodney McKay, Laura Cadman, Madison Miller, Original Character(s), Other Canon Character(s), Other Het Pairing, Other Slash Pairing, Rodney McKay
Genre: Alternate Universe, Established Relationship, First Time, Friendship, Humour, Kid!fic, Pre-Relationship, Romance, Slash
Warnings: None
Challenges:
Series: None
Chapters: 13 Completed: No Word count: 58068 Read: 60463 Published: April 08, 2010 Updated: April 08, 2010
Story Notes:
Written for Nano in 2008, although I reached 50,000 words in the month, this is *not yet* completed! *However* each Chapter can be taken individually and there are no 'evil cliffhangers'. The plot for this fic is based of 'The Upper Hand' - which was the UK version of 'Who's the Boss'

1. Welcome to Manitou Springs… Please Mind the Boss by kez

2. Brawl Baby Brawl by kez

3. Knock, Knock – Who's Bare by kez

4. Dinner For Two by kez

5. Don't it make my Blue eyes... Green by kez

6. The Ex by kez

7. Requiem by kez

8. Here Comes the Bride by kez

9. The Prodigal Father-in-Law by kez

10. Growing Pains by kez

11. Family Ties by kez

12. 'Tis The Season by kez

13. Blind Date by kez

Welcome to Manitou Springs… Please Mind the Boss by kez
John Sheppard slammed the back door of his old blue Chevy van, pausing for a moment and smiling when it stayed shut. "That's my girl," he patted the door gently.

"You sure about this John?" Teyla asked.

"Yeah I'm sure," John said, grabbing Piper by the back of her coat as she flitted by him, "...in the van Piper."

"I was just gonna... get in the van," Piper sighed, giving John a meek look as she changed direction.

"Good answer," John said.

"It just won't be the same without you John. And you know you'll miss this place," Teyla said.

"Somehow I think I'll adapt. Manitou is a real nice place. We'll be living in a nice house; there is a great school for Piper. Take care of yourself Teyla," John gave her a hug.

Teyla smiled. "You too John. Your going to miss the heartbeat of the city you know. The excitement, the culture."

"Eh! Shut up down there! I'm trying to sleep!" the shout came from an upstairs window in the apartment building.

John chuckled as he jumped into the van. "We'll keep in touch," he promised.

"See that you do," Teyla said, waving them off, as John pulled out from the curb.

Piper sat low down in her seat, watching the city streets go by. John sighed, he knew it was going to be a difficult adjustment for her, but it was for the best.

John patted her arm. "You'll like it Pi, you'll see," John told her.

Denver had been home since Piper was three, but when she'd come home from school with a black eye, telling him 'You should see the other guy Dad,' with a grin, he'd known they needed something else, somewhere else. Somewhere Piper could grow up properly.

It wouldn't be an easy transition, to go from an apartment in Denver, to a nice suburban house in Manitou Springs, he'd have a lot of adjusting to do himself, but if it would give Piper a better life, he'd learn.

"I like it here," Piper said.

"I know Pi," John gave her a reassuring smile. "But you'll like it in Manitou Springs too."

Piper shrugged and slid further down in her seat.

*~*~*~*~*

The house was nice. Manitou Springs was pretty small, a population not much more than 5000 and the McKay household was right on the edge, closest to Colorado Springs.

The property was impressive. John felt distinctly out of place as soon as he drove through the gate. The drive bent round as it approached the front door; there was a fountain in the middle of the neat green lawn. John's beat up old Chevy creaked painfully, as he pulled it up beside the parked Silver Jaguar.

John patted the dashboard, as if reassuring the van that she was still his favourite girl.

"Holy cow!" Piper looked awed.

John could relate. The house wasn't massive, but it was still fairly impressive. Their whole apartment could probably have fitted into the garage. The New England look of the house melted into the well kept garden and gravel drive, like the house had always been there. It was impressive.

John mentally gave himself a prep-talk. It was the same one he'd been repeating to himself all the way there.

"Come on," he told Piper, jumping out of the van. "Don't wander off," he warned, as he knocked the front door. Even the knocker was impressive. A dark copper ring, hooked through the mouth of a lion, with blazing eyes. Metal just wasn't supposed to blaze like that, was it?

*~*~*~*~*

The door opened and John had to look down. A young girl with strawberry blond hair and freckles looked up at him.

"Uncle Rodney! There's a strange man at the door!" she called. Okay then, John noted, her voice wasn't as small as the rest of her.

"Madison, I told you not to open the door to strangers," the man, who John could only assume was Rodney McKay appeared from behind her.

"I didn't know it was a stranger, until I opened the door," Madison said. John smiled, amused, as Rodney rolled his eyes.

"And you are?" he asked, turning his attention to John.

John suddenly felt like he was under a microscope. "John Sheppard," he said, pleased that he sounded confident. "It's a pleasure to meet you Doctor McKay."

"Of course it is. Am I supposed to know who you are?" Rodney asked.

John frowned. Elizabeth had assured him the job was his. John was about to explain himself, when Elizabeth appeared.

"Oh John, you found us, good," Elizabeth smiled at him.

"You know him?" Rodney asked.

"He's the new housekeeper," Elizabeth said.

"He's a he!" Rodney exclaimed.

"Yes Rodney, I had noticed," and Elizabeth's exasperated little chuckle, made John think this sort of thing was normal and he mentally stood down.

"Excuse us a moment," Rodney said, dragging Elizabeth inside, leaving John looking like a lemming on the front door step, Madison looking at him with amusement. John used the few moments to mentally map what he could see of the living room.

"Well..." Rodney finally returned to the door. "I suppose a trial period wouldn't hurt."

"Dad, did you see... erm..." Piper swung into him, breathless excitement going mute when she said Rodney.

"And this is?" Rodney asked.

"Doctor McKay, this is my daughter Piper," John said.

"Pleased to meet you Doctor McKay," Piper said, offering her hand, which Rodney accepted after a brief hesitation.

"I don't recall advertising for a child," Rodney gave Elizabeth a pointed look.

"It'll be good for Maddie to have another kid around," Elizabeth said. Almost as if to prove her point, Madison was already dragging Piper into the house and disappearing upstairs.

"Doctor McKay..."

"Yes, yes, you can stay. Elizabeth will show you you're rooms. I like to have dinner between seven and eight. Madison has to have hers earlier; she's in bed by seven. I'm mortally allergic to citrus, other than that, I'll eat almost anything," Rodney waved a dismissive hand. "Oh and much as all this politeness is to be encouraged, you can call me Rodney, I have enough bumbling idiots calling me Doctor McKay at work."

John stood there in shock as Rodney disappeared again almost as quickly as he'd appeared.

"He's not so bad. Just a little highly strung. He's gotten better since Maddie came to live here," Elizabeth gave him an encouraging little smile as he was finally able to step though the front door.

"Right. Well, I guess you'd better show me our rooms," John said, trying not to give away, just how entirely out of his depth he was. Maybe this hadn't been such a wonderful idea after all.

*~*~*~*~*

As Elizabeth led him through the house, John mentally mapped it. He'd bet his instructors at the academy never would have imagined their training being put to use like this, as he made short lists of chores that would need doing, assigning them a day and check listing what he'd need for each one.

"Rodney takes some getting use to," Elizabeth said, leading him up the stairs.

"I'm sure we'll get along fine," John told her. After all, he hadn't decked his last commanding officer... and he'd had serious temptation. Rodney shouldn't be a problem. Probably.

"This is your room; the room next to it will suit Piper. Unfortunately, Piper's doesn't have an ensuit, but she can share the main bathroom with Madison," Elizabeth pointed towards another door across the hall, even as she opened the one they were standing in front off. It was a nice room.

Painted in blues and yellows, with green accents. A man's room. Probably had been used for business acquaintances in the past. The bed was a queen-size, made with dark pine.

"It's great," John said.

"I have some letters to type out this afternoon. You probably won't see Rodney until dinner time. But maybe we can all have dinner tomorrow night, a kind of get to know you thing. It's Friday, so Madison is allowed to stay up a little later," Elizabeth suggested.

"Yeah, sure. Do you know what time Doctor McKay will want his breakfast?" John asked.

"Breakfast is at 7.30. There is a list of times for school, appointments and such printed on the fridge. The kitchen is the door directly on the other side of the living room from the front door. You can explore for yourself, although the study is out of bounds if Rodney is working. If you need anything, I live in the bungalow just at the edge of the property, my number is speed dial 1 on all the house phones," Elizabeth gave him another reassuring smile.

"Bye," John said, looking back towards his bedroom, as he heard two giggling girls approaching.

"Dad, it's so cool, Madison has a horse! He's called Einstein!" Piper grinned at him.

"I hope you haven't been poking where you shouldn't," John said.

"Daaaaad," Piper rolled her eyes. John felt his chest tighten a little at how much she reminded him of her mother.

"You've got the room next to me. Why don't you go check it out," John suggested.

"Oh that rooms all purple. Uncle Rodney let me choose the colours. My room is pink," Madison was grinning wildly and already pulling Piper off towards the room. Well, at least they were going to get along.

John checked his watch. It was a little after three. Still some time before he had to think about dinner, he could get a few boxes sorted through by then. Maybe just their clothes, nothing else was so urgent it couldn't wait a day, or two.

*~*~*~*~*

John fed the girls, put Madison to bed and told Piper to stay in her room and sort out her clothes. He wasn't sure if Rodney had expected Piper to eat with them or with Madison, but until he got the lay of the land, he wanted to keep Piper out of Rodney's way.

He almost needn't have bothered. He didn't actually see Rodney at dinnertime, hidden behind his laptop; he spent the meal fork in one hand, the other typing furiously. It took John about three seconds to realise that was probably how Rodney spent most of his meals. Most of his day actually. He'd thought when he first saw him, Rodney wasn't overly fit and now he could clearly see why.

"You could take a picture, it might be easier," Rodney's snapping comment shocked John from his thoughts.

"I'm not use to computers at the dinner table," John said.

"I doubt you're use to computers in general," Rodney retorted, going back to his meal, shovelling another mouthful down and punching a few more laptop keys, just a little more furiously than before.

John took that as 'I don't want to talk anymore' and went back to eating in silence. Rodney had never met anyone who could dismiss him so easily, without actually speaking.

*~*~*~*~*

The morning routine was, routine. Madison took care of herself mostly, made her bed, washed and brushed her teeth and fed her pet spider, before coming down the stairs for breakfast. Piper and Madison argued over the relative merits of cocopops vs chocolate krispies and then mixed them up. John was just about to wonder if he should go knock on Rodney's door, when he appeared.

He was blurry eyed, unshaven and wearing a bathrobe that really looked like it had seen better days. He barely even glanced at the table when Madison said good morning, as he headed straight for the coffee machine.

"Good morning," John said trying for bright and cheery as Rodney downed his first cup. Blue eyes glared at him over the mug.

"Eggs? Bacon? Toast?" John asked.

Rodney grunted and headed for the cupboard, dragging two power bars from a box.

"That's not a breakfast, most important meal of the day you know," John said.

Rodney grunted again, heading back to the coffee pot for a refill. "No time. Madison, did you do your homework?" Rodney asked.

"Yes Uncle Rodney, do you want to see?" Madison asked.

"Hm, no, no, that's fine," Rodney muttered, his head already in his coffee mug again as he headed back towards the living room.

"I'll give it a once over if you want Madison," John smiled at her.

"Thank-you John. Uncle Rodney always checks my Science and Maths, but he doesn't like English much," Madison shrugged. John mentally sighed. Six year olds just weren't supposed to give that resigned little shrug.

"Finish your breakfast and I'll have a look before the bus comes," John said, giving one pigtail a teasing tug, as he moved to clear up the place he'd set for Rodney.

John had a feeling that Rodney wasn't going to be sharing many meals with the family. Or any.

*~*~*~*~*

Before John thought about it, a week has passed. Piper seemed to be settling and had started pulling more of her stuff out of storage in the van and reluctantly, John started doing the same. Life in the McKay household wasn't bad. Madison and Piper were already attached at the hip and although Rodney didn't speak much, even when he did appear, John found he genuinely liked Elizabeth.

He wasn't sure he could have done her job, but she handled Rodney's world with well practiced ease. And she clearly doted on Madison.

"Halt!" John called as two girls came flying into the kitchen and towards the living room.

"Oh, hey Dad! Where's Rodney?" Piper asked.

"He's not home yet. Why?" John asked.

"Maddie has something to tell him," Piper grinned.

"And what's that?" John asked.

"I got a part in the school play!" Madison announced, fit to bursting with pride. "I'm going to be the Princess!"

"The Princess huh, well you know what all good little Princess' do when they come home from School. Their homework," John's eyes danced with mirth.

"But I want to call Uncle Rodney," Madison whined.

"You're Uncle is probably knee deep in... whatever it is he does, you can speak to him when he gets home." John told her.

Piper and Madison pouted, whined and sat down at the table as John put out cookies and milk. "Once you've finished your homework, you can watch some TV."

Rule Three, in the McKay household, seemed to be only one hour of television a night for Madison. It came right after Rule One, No Citrus, Ever! And Rule Two, Never disturb Rodney when he's working. Piper hadn't been pleased, but John had enforced the same rules on her. It hardly seemed fair that Piper could watch as much TV as she liked and Madison, only an hour.

"Can we watch Pinky and the Brain?" Madison asked.

John chuckled. "Gee Brain, what do you want to do tonight?"

"The same thing we do every night, Pinky - Try to take over the world!" Piper and Madison replied in unison, giggling.

"Call me when you've finished you're homework," John told them.

*~*~*~*~*

Rodney didn't appear home until after nine. John had eventually managed to get Madison to go to bed, still bubbling with her news.

"Dinner is in the oven," John told him, without looking up from his book. If he couldn't be bothered to be on time, John couldn't be bothered with manners.

"I ate, I had a business dinner with a college," Rodney said.

"It would have been nice if you'd let me know, I wouldn't have made you anything," John said.

"I'll probably be hungry again later," Rodney shrugged and headed towards his study.

"Madison was waiting for you. I only managed to get her to sleep half an hour ago," John told him.

"She's supposed to be in bed at seven," Rodney said.

"And if you'd been home on time, she would have been," John said.

"I don't see why..."

"She had news, she wanted to share. I didn't think it was a good idea for her to call you at work, of course if I'd known you were going to be late, I would have let her."

"I'm sure it can wait until morning," Rodney said, frowning.

"I'm sure it can," John agreed, turning back to his book. But just because it could wait until morning, that didn't mean it should. Madison had gone to bed disappointed and she didn't deserve that.

*~*~*~*~*

Madison bounded down stairs in the morning, while John was scrambling some eggs. "Is Uncle Rodney awake yet?"

"I think I heard him moving around up there. Sit down and eat, he'll probably be down soon," John said.

"But..."

"Ah. Breakfast now," John said.

Madison grumbled softly to herself, but she sat up at the table, just as Piper came in.

"You want tomatoes with your eggs?" John asked.

"Yes please Dad, Rodney asked if he could have coffee in his study, he came down stairs behind me," Piper said.

John mentally sighed. "I'll take him some in a minute."

"Can I go..."

"After you've eaten Maddie," John told her, pouring a cup of extra strong coffee.

"Every bite..." John reminded the girls.


Rodney's study was a mess. John had tried, had honestly tried, to clean it and keep it that way, but as soon as Rodney came home from work, he was back in there messing it up. John just couldn't keep up with him.

"Coffee," John said, setting the mug down on the desk.

"Thanks," Rodney offered distractedly.

"Madison is waiting to speak to you," John reminded him.

"What... oh... well what's it about?" Rodney asked.

"I think she'd like to tell you herself," John said.

"I'm busy, I have a lot of very important work to do," Rodney said.

"It'll take two minutes out of your day," John argued.

Rodney glared at him. It was a glare John had learned to ignore after his third day. Rodney glared at everyone.

"Fine, I'll be out before she goes to school," Rodney said, turning back to his computer, John knew he was being dismissed.

*~*~*~*~*

John had taken Rodney at his word and gone outside to wash the front walk, which he'd been meaning to get too for days, while the girls finished breakfast. He was just turning the water on, when he heard Piper shouting 'you're horrible'.

Madison came flying out the door and John was barely able to catch her, before Piper followed.

"Whoa there. What's wrong?"

Madison sniffled and struggled to get free. "Let me go!" she yelled, kicking John in the shin.

John bit back a curse. "Maddie, calm down. What's wrong?"

"Uncle Rodney doesn't want to see my play," Madison said, tears streaming down her face.

John felt anger coil in his stomach, but he bit it back, Madison needed him to be the adult. "I'm sure that's not the case Maddie, but he's got a lot of important work to do."

"That's what he said," Piper said, with obvious distain.

"I'm sure he'll do everything he can to be there," John said.

"He won't be there. He never is," Madison said, tugging away from John's lightened hold, she headed for the end of the lane where the school bus would collect them.

"Keep an eye on her," John told Piper, giving her a kiss on the head.

"Kay Dad," Piper promised, following Madison down the lane.

John knew he shouldn't loose his temper. It wouldn't help anyone, but damn it, Madison was such a sweet kid.

"You know, you're a piece of work McKay," John growled. Okay, fine, he was loosing his temper, but damn it, Rodney deserved it.

"Excuse me?"

"Maddie just ran out of here in tears, or was your head too far up your own ass to notice that," John said.

"How dare you..."

"Oh I dare. And you can fire me if you like. I've been here a week and I've swapped a grand total of maybe twenty words with you. That's fine, I'm an adult, but Maddie is just a kid and she wanted you to be happy for her. She wanted you to congratulate her and promise you'd go along and see her play, because she's six and that's what six year olds expect from their parents!" John said.

"I'm not her parent!" Rodney retorted.

John really, really wanted to slap him. "Well you're all she's got. And I don't give a damn what important work you think you've got going on, nothing is as important as that little girl. Nothing."

John spun on his heel and walked back outside, before he did punch Rodney. Damn, he was so fired.

*~*~*~*~*

It was like walking on egg shells. Madison was quite and sullen. Piper was moody. Even Elizabeth seemed to be on tenterhooks. John mentally slapped himself. On the plus side, Rodney hadn't fired him yet. On the negative, shouting at him hadn't changed anything.

"Dad, are we going to go see Maddie's play?" Piper asked, as he put her to bed that night.

"Of course we are," John assured.

"Do you think you could tell her that? I tried, but she doesn't believe me," Piper said.

"I'll talk to her. You get some sleep," John gave her a kiss goodnight.

John closed her door and poked his head in Madison's, to check on her, he was only half surprised to see her awake.

"Can't sleep huh?" he asked, sitting on the side of her bed.

"I miss my mom and dad. They always went to my plays. Mommy even made my costume for three little pigs," Madison said.

John smiled sadly. "I'm an adult and I still miss my mom. Mom's are the best people in the world."

"Uncle Rodney checks my homework, but he doesn't... he always has work that's more important than me," Madison said.

"He's got an important job. My Dad was in the Air Force, I hardly ever saw him. But I know he loved me," John said. Well, he had loved him, until he'd quit the Air Force to raise Piper, things hadn't been the same after that, but that was another story.

"All the other kids will have people there to watch them," Madison said.

"And so will you, Piper and me will be there. And I bet Elizabeth will come too if you ask her," John said.

"Really?" Madison asked.

"Absolutely. I had a school play once, when I was not much older than you. I really, really wanted my dad to be there, but he had to go away for a few days and he wasn't. I was pretty upset too... but my neighbour came and brought her husband. It wasn't the same as having Dad there, but it was pretty good. And I got ice cream afterwards. What do you say to having Ice Cream afterwards?" John asked.

"Chocolate Chip!" Madison grinned.

"With hot fudge sauce and sprinkles," John promised.

"Could we take pictures? So Uncle Rodney can see?" Madison asked.

"I'll take so many pictures, you'll need a second bedroom to keep them all in," John said, ruffling her hair.

"I don't think we need that many," Madison giggled, flattening her mussed hair.

"Okay, how does one roll of film sound?" John suggested.

"That'd be enough," Madison agreed.

"One roll it is, you gonna sleep now?" John asked.

"Yes John," Madison promised, snuggling under her quilt, as John leaned down and kissed her forehead.

"Sweet dreams Princess Madison," John murmured.

"Night night John."

*~*~*~*~*

Rodney seemed to be avoiding John, over the next few weeks. Madison didn't say anything more about Rodney not going to the play, but she did seem excited that John and Piper would be going. Piper and Madison spent hours in their rooms 'practicing'. John was banned, under pain of death. John chuckled with amusement, as Piper came down stairs on the Friday night of the play, tapping out a drum beat on the banister.

"Ladies and Gentlemen... Presenting Princess Madison McKay-Miller," Piper announced.

Madison came down the stairs, her head held high, smiling sweetly. "Good evening, my loyal subjects."

John couldn't help it, he laughed out loud, pleased that Elizabeth was joining him in his amusement.

"You look perfect Maddie," Elizabeth smiled.

"Stunning," John agreed.

Elizabeth had taken them shopping to get the dress, pink and sparkly, it matched the pretty pink slippers she was wearing. A tiara finished the look, set in among the curls that Elizabeth had painstakingly spent hours on.

"We gotta hurry, I need to be there early," Madison announced.

"Right," John said. "Well you better put your jacket on over the top of that, it's chilly out tonight."

John put his own jacket on over his shirt, pausing for a moment. Rodney wasn't home from work yet, but he'd been hoping... "Come on girls. Let's get going."

*~*~*~*~*

John was sitting on the end of the row, so he had room for his legs. Madison had disappeared with her teacher, as soon as they'd come in. Piper was fidgeting beside him and he was about to tell her to please sit still, when a shadow fell over him.

"Is there room for one more?" Rodney asked.

"I'm not sure we can accommodate your ego," John said, a small smile playing over his lips as he gave Piper a tap to move her down a seat.

"I left it outside," Rodney snorted.

"I'm keeping the outside seat," John said, but he did move aside so Rodney could slip into the seat beside him. Rodney took the seat and gave John an unsure smile. John nodded; they'd call it a truce. And maybe he'd stop putting the orange juice beside the coffee maker.

The stage lights went down and John lost himself in the play, pleased when he heard Rodney chuckling with everyone else. He chanced a look, seeing that Rodney was being just as attentive as the other parents around the room. Maybe he wasn't a lost cause after all.

*~*~*~*~*

"Uncle Rodney! Did you see me?" Madison asked, throwing herself into his arms.

"You were very good," Rodney said, looking uncomfortable as Madison attached herself to his side.

"You were great Maddie," John said.

"Thanks John. Are we going for ice cream now?"

John chuckled. "I promised didn't I? Rodney?"

"I..." and John knew Rodney was about to say he had work waiting for him, he even promised himself he wouldn't say anything if he did. He's shown up and that was more than he'd expected.

"Please Uncle Rodney?" Madison asked, big brown eyes blinking up at him.

"My treat," John added, because Madison really wanted to spend some time with him and what was an extra few dollars to make a kid smile.

"Chocolate chip," Rodney said.

"With hot fudge sauce and sprinkles," Madison grinned.

"And whipped cream," Rodney added.

"Ewwww," Madison and Piper sounded at once, making John laugh.

"Maddie, why don't you drive with your Uncle and we'll meet you there," John suggested. Rodney looked like a deer caught in headlights.

"I'll tag along with you two as well, if you don't mind," Elizabeth offered easily as Rodney sighed with relief.

John shook his head with quiet amusement. Well, you couldn't expect the habits of a life time to change all at once, but this was definitely progress.

*~*~*~*~*

John carried a sleepy Madison upstairs to bed, as Piper trailed behind him, grumbling all the way that she wasn't tired, but as soon as her head hit the pillow, she was asleep.

John kissed her goodnight and popped his head in to check on Madison, smiling when he saw Rodney stroking hair back from her face.

"Sweet dreams 'hatter," Rodney murmured, kissing her gently.

"Hatter?" John asked quietly, as Rodney closed Madison's door.

"Madison... 'Mad' as a hatter, Jeanie... my sister, use to love Alice in Wonderland. Madison's room in their house was all Alice in Wonderland," Rodney said.

"Maddie doesn't talk about her much," John said, moving down the stairs behind Rodney. It was true; she'd only ever mentioned her twice in the two months since John had come to live there.

"I didn't handle Jeanie dying very well. I think she's afraid if she talks about her too much, I'll send her away," Rodney admits quietly, sitting down heavily on the couch.

John nods, but doesn't speak. He knows what Rodney means. Piper was the same for a while, after Jen died, she hardly ever mentioned her. He thinks now, that she hasn't mentioned her in a while, but he knows that's less to do with being afraid and more to do with growing up. Piper's moved on in a way he hasn't been able to. She'll never forget her mom, but she's not bound to her the way John is.

"I know you think I'm a bad parent," Rodney says, and it's kinda out of left field, the very last thing John was expecting.

"I don't," John defends. He honestly doesn't. He just doesn't think Rodney is a very good parent either.

"I never expected to be a parent. And I figured if I did, I'd have a wife to look after the kid. But she's my sisters only child, what was I supposed to do?" It's not really a question, but it is.

"When Jen died..." and that pauses John, because even after all this time, it still stings, "I had no concept of being a parent. I was working, the Air Force took me all over, not as bad as my Dad when I was a kid, but I got all the fun stuff, Jen dealt with all the 'parent' stuff. That first year, I screwed up everything. I mean seriously, Piper spent most of the time yelling at me for everything."

"How did you deal with it?" Rodney asked.

"It took me a while, but I finally figured it out... Every decision you make you have to ask yourself, is this best for Madison and if the answer's no, then you're doing it wrong," John shrugged.

"I'm too selfish to do that," Rodney said.

"You can learn. You came tonight. You have no idea what that simple thing meant to her," John said.

"I'm glad Elizabeth hired you," Rodney said. "I'm still not sure what you get out of it, but I'm glad."

"Piper gets a nice home, a good school... somewhere she can go outside and play and I don't have to worry she's going to get knocked down," John said.

"It's what's best for her," Rodney said, nodding like he understood what John was saying. And maybe, John thought, he did.
Brawl Baby Brawl by kez
Life settled into a pattern. Rodney still brought his laptop to the table, but John hadn't honestly expected a sudden overnight change in his behaviour. But his one triumph was getting Rodney to have breakfast with them. To actually eat breakfast, something more than coffee and power bars.

John had actually begun thinking of it as home. And then Piper came home from school one Friday afternoon, sullen, moody and silent. She didn't say a word all through dinner. Madison barely spoke either, unless she was spoken to. John sighed.

"You girls want to go see a movie after dinner?" he asked.

Piper made a noncommittal grunt. And how wrong was it that his twelve year old daughter had perfected that. Madison looked interested for a moment, but a glance at Piper and she slumped further into her chair and shook her head.

"Okay... Swimming?" John suggested.

"I'm going to bed," Piper announced, leaving the food she'd been pushing around on her plate and disappearing before John could protect.

"Maddie, did something happen today?" John asked.

"I don't know," Madison said quietly. "She was okay this morning, but on the bus this afternoon she... she didn't want to talk to me."

Madison's face fell. John could relate. Piper had become her best friend and now she felt abandoned. He'd felt like that a lot growing up. The joys of being a military brat.

"Finish eating your dinner Maddie and then you can watch TV for an hour," John told her, clearing up Piper's plate.

Madison settled down to watch TV, while John finished tiding the kitchen. Normally on a weekend, Madison stayed up a little later, but tonight, as soon as seven came around, she went of to bed, without being prompted.

"Is everything okay? Madison came to say goodnight and she seemed upset?" Rodney asked, appearing out of his study.

It had become a ritual. Madison went to say goodnight every evening. Rodney had grumbled at first, being interrupted in what he promised were 'astounding scientific leaps' but he'd become use to it, even enjoyed it.

"Piper. She came home sullen and moody today, barely said half a dozen words all night. I'm gonna have a talk with her. Your dinner is ready, just needs warming in the oven, if you want to go ahead and eat," John told him.

*~*~*~*~*

John wasn't surprised to find Piper still awake. She looked up from a book when he entered, but didn't speak.

"Hey Pi, you okay?" John asked.

Piper glared, turning back to her book.

"Okay, dumb question. You wanna tell me what's wrong?" John asked.

"No," Piper responded, without ever looking up.

"You can't hide up here forever," John said, sitting on the edge of her bed.

Piper didn't answer him, but she did close her book.

"Pi, you know you can talk to me about anything," John said.

"I miss home," Piper said quietly. "I hate it here."

John sighed. He'd thought they were past this. He'd thought they'd settled in well here. John had picked up a few new friends in the area and Piper was doing well at school.

"I know you miss Denver. I do too; it's hard when you have to move away from what you're use too. But things are pretty good here, aren't they? You're doing well in school; you and Madison get along well. You've even made friends with her spider," and personally, John though that was just creepy.

Piper made a noncommittal sound and shrugged.

"Maybe we can go visit Teyla next weekend," John suggested.

Piper seemed to brighten a little. "Can we really?"

"I'll give her a call during the week," John promised.

Piper thought about it for a moment, John could almost see the cogs in her head turning. "Okay," she agreed slowly.

"Don't stay up too late," John warned, giving her a kiss on the forehead. Piper made a sound that said 'Dad I'm too old for that!' so John did it again for good measure. "Night Sweetheart."

"Goodnight Dad."

*~*~*~*~*

John headed down the stairs, making mental notes to call Teyla and Piper's teacher, because he doesn't believe for one second that this came on all of a sudden without reason. But Piper won't tell and Madison either doesn't know, or isn't talking, so he'll call the school on Monday and see if he can't get some answers.

He's only half surprised to see Rodney sitting on the couch, tapping away at his laptop. "I thought I'd wait," Rodney tells him and for the first time in the three months since John arrived, Rodney doesn't bring his laptop to the dinner table.

John stuck their dinner in the oven to heat, while he busied himself putting out cutlery and grabbing himself a beer from the fridge. "Want one?" John asked. Another little ritual, they'd share a beer with dinner on a Friday night.

"What was wrong with Piper?" Rodney asked.

"Growing up," John said, snorting. "She said she's missing home."

"Home?"

"Denver. I guess she wasn't as settled as I thought," John shrugged.

"Oh. Well I suppose it must be difficult for her, you lived in Denver a long time didn't you?" Rodney said.

"Nine years. Well Piper did. I wasn't really there a lot the first couple of years," John said.

Rodney didn't say anything, because what could he say. They spent the rest of dinner in companionable silence.

*~*~*~*~*

Piper heard John and Rodney moving around and closed her eyes. The door to her room opened and closed a few moments later. Waiting until she was sure everyone had gone to sleep she climbed out of bed, grabbing her shoes. She knew her dad was a light sleeper, but as long as she avoided the third floor board from the left, which sounded like a zombie rising from the dead when it creaked, she could make it downstairs unheard.

She was sure she'd succeeded, almost at the front door, when she heard someone behind her.

"Piper, where are you going?" Madison asked in a stage whisper.

"Maddie! Go back to bed," Piper told her.

"Where are you going?" Madison repeated.

"I'm just going for a walk," Piper lied.

"Liar," Madison said.

"Madison, be quite!" Piper said, listening for movement from upstairs.

"If you don't tell me where you're going, I'm going to get John," Madison warned.

Piper sighed. "Fine, I'm going back to Denver."

"Oh. Can I come?" Madison asked.

"No!" Piper said.

"If you don't let me..."

"I know, you'll go and get my Dad. Fine, but if you whine even once..." Piper glared.

Madison nodded. "I'll be good."

"You better get dressed," Piper said.

"Already am," Madison announced, opening her bathrobe.

"Of course you are," Piper rolled her eyes. She should have known Madison would figure out what she was doing. Damn kid was too smart for her own good sometimes.

"Then get your coat and lets go," Piper stuffed Madison's bathrobe behind the sofa and grabbed her own jacket as she slipped on her shoes.

The two girls slipped out the back door, completely unseen.

*~*~*~*~*

John woke up later than normal on a Saturday. It was a nice lazy day. Nothing important going on, even Rodney had started taking Saturday's off. He didn't hear any sounds, so he took his time showering, enjoying the warm water and the chance to take the edge of his physical needs. He hadn't really dated since Jen, his last few attempts were... well, John wouldn't call them failures exactly, but they certainly weren't successful.

He was going to check in on the girls, but he knew Piper had probably been up later than she should have been reading so it wouldn't hurt to give them an extra half hour while he made breakfast.

Rodney appeared down, about twenty minutes later, heading straight for the coffee pot. "Where's the girls?" he asked after he'd downed his first mug. It was as close to civil as Rodney got on one mug of coffee.

"Still in bed," John said, flipping a pancake.

"Um... no they aren't," Rodney said.

"They haven't come down yet," John said.

"Well they aren't in bed, I checked in Madison's room before I came down," Rodney said.

John flicked off the hob, leaving the half cooked pancake in the pan as he headed up stairs, Rodney on his heels.

"Piper..." John was only half surprised to find her room empty.

"Where are they?" Rodney asked.

"I don't know..." John checked the drawers. "Nothing's missing."

"So? What does that mean?" Rodney asked impatiently.

"Either that they haven't gone far, or they didn't plan to go," John said.

"Didn't plan to go? Someone kidnapped them?" Rodney said, panicked.

"No. I'd have heard anyone coming into the house," John said. "They probably just didn't plan very well."

"Well you didn't hear them leave, so how do you know you'd hear anyone else come in!" Rodney said.

"I'd just know!" John snapped. Damn it, it wasn't like Rodney had heard them go.

"Well where are they?" Rodney demanded.

"I don't know," John said. "Maybe they went down to the stables..."

Rodney thundered down the stairs, two steps behind John, crashing into him, when John stopped at the bottom. "Elizabeth, have you seen Piper and Madison?"

"No, they aren't here?" Elizabeth asked concerned.

"No. I was hoping they'd gone down to the stables," John said.

"No, at least I didn't see them and I was just past there," Elizabeth said, she had to pass the stables to get to the main house from her bungalow.

"Okay, I'll take the van out and look, you guys check the grounds," John suggested. He really wanted to panic himself now, but years in the Air Force had drummed into him that the best way to handle any crisis was with calm.

"What if they aren't there? What did you say to Piper last night? I thought you said she was fine," Rodney looked accusing.

"She was," John grated out, because damn it, his daughter was missing too.

"Calm down. What was wrong with Piper?" Elizabeth asked.

"She was feeling homesick, she... Oh God," John felt his stomach churn. "I think I know where they've gone."

"Well?" Rodney demanded.

"Denver," John said.

"Denver? Why on Earth would Madison go to Denver?" Rodney said.

"Because that's where Piper would go. And Madison probably thought it would be fun to go too. Damn." John cursed.

"I'll get my car," Rodney said.

"I'll wait here, in case they call," Elizabeth assured.

"Thanks," John said, smiling gratefully. Rodney was pissed at him, but at least Elizabeth was keeping a cool head. Damn. And the morning had started so well.

*~*~*~*~*

"Thanks Mister!" Piper yelled up at the truck driver who's dropped them off.

"He smelled funny," Madison said, when the truck had driven off again.

"It wasn't him dummy, that was a freezer truck, it was the meat you could smell," Piper said.

"Meat?"

"Yeah, dead cows and stuff. They hang them on hooks to transport them," Piper said.

"Ewww. My Mommy and Daddy were vegetarians; Uncle Rodney eats meat though, so I do too... I don't think I'd like to see the cow hung on a hook though," Madison said.

"It is kinda gross," Piper admitted. "Come on, I use to live near here..."

Near was actually a good deal further than Piper had realised, but eventually, they were coming out near Piper's old school. "There is a Bee-Ball Court around the back; it's where all the cool kids hang out"

The cool kids, were pretty much all the same kids that were there three months ago when Piper left. Which were pretty much all the kids of eight and over in the neighbourhood. It was the only place to hang out, unless you went to the sports centre.

"Pipes!"

"Jimmy!" Piper high-fived the skinny kid that approached.

"I thought you'd gone up-scale Pipes," Jimmy grinned, floppy brown hair covering his eyes.

"Maybe I missed you," Piper said, grinning.

"Sure Pipes..." Jimmy rolled his eyes. "You're outta luck if you're looking for Charlie, his Dad got a promotion, they moved to DC."

"I wasn't looking for Charlie," Piper said, but she was blushing. "We playing ball?"

"We were, you want in?"

"You bet, Benny down here?" Piper asked.

"Yeah... Benny!" Jimmy turned and yelled across the court.

"What?" Benny came running across.

"Hey Beany," Piper said.

"Don't call me that," Benny glared.

"Sure thing Beany. You keep Maddie square while I'm playing Bee-Ball?"

"Yeah, whatever," Benny shrugged.

"Piper..." Madison said, looking around nervously.

"It's okay Maddie. Benny's cool," Piper promised.

"Okay..." Madison said, still looking unsure.

"Come-on kid; lets hop," Benny grinned.

"So Pipes, still reckon you can shoot me down?" Jimmy asked.

"Down and out Jimmy, without even breaking a sweat," Piper said grinning. Yeah, this was more like it, this was home.

*~*~*~*~*

The drive to Denver was silent. Positively frost-bitten. Rodney's knuckles were white on the wheel and John wondered if he'd have to tie him up to keep him from lighting on the kids as soon as they found them.

"Take the next left," John said.

Rodney grunted an acknowledgement, following John's instructions. John figured the best place to start was their old neighbourhood. If she'd come to Denver, he was sure Piper would have gone back there.

"Look, Rodney, you need to calm down," John said.

"Calm down? My six year old niece runs away, to Denver and I'm supposed to be calm?" The way he spit out Denver, like it was clearly an inconceivable notion that anyone would go there voluntarily was almost an insult.

"She's with Piper and Piper knows the area. She'll be safe, next left again," John said.

Rodney gave a derisive snort and turned left.

"Just down the end of this block," John didn't call Rodney on his snort, because arguing wasn't going to help find the girls. He was still considering whether or not to deck him later though.

The place hadn't changed much, from what John could see, the only difference was a fresh coat of paint on the front railing.

"Sheppard!" a cry came from behind him and John just about had time to turn around before he was being lifted of his feet.

"Ow. Hey Ronon," John said, relieved to feel his feet touch the ground again.

"Teyla and I were just talking about you, she says you never call," Ronon grinned.

"I've been meaning too," John shrugs. It's true, he had meant to. But you could get lost in life in Manitou Springs and Denver seemed a million miles away.

"What brings you back to the old neighbourhood?" Ronon asked.

"Piper, she ran away, pretty sure she came here. She's got Rodney's niece with her too," John said.

"Haven't seen string bean, but I just got back from DC last night, haven't been out yet except to get milk," Ronon said.

"Who did you flatten?" John asked.

"No one who didn't deserve it," Ronon laughed.

"Ronon's the coach at the local high school, wrestling championships," John explained for Rodney's benefit.

"Fascinating," Rodney frowned.

"Teyla!" Ronon boomed out. "Get down here."

"I'm not sure they heard you on Pluto," John said.

Ronon shrugged. "But I do so enjoy scaring the neighbours."

"As interesting as all this is..."

"Patience Rodney," John glared. It was like glaring at a brick wall, Rodney didn't take a damn bit of notice.

"Look, just relax okay," John said.

"Right..." Rodney drawled. John didn't think Rodney was supposed to know how to drawl like that. It just sounded wrong on him.

"John! I thought you'd forgotten about us!" Teyla appeared.

John could almost see the drool dripping down Rodney's chin. He had to admit, Teyla was a beautiful woman, but he had zero interest in her, she was like a sister and mother, with a bit of his old grade school teacher mixed into one.

"Sorry," John had the good graces to look apologetic. "I meant to call, I've been so busy..." It wasn't really a great excuse and was only half true, but Teyla didn't call him on it.

"What brings you today?" Teyla asked.

"Looking for Piper. She ran away, I thought she might come back here," John said.

Teyla frowned. "I have not seen her."

John sighed. "I was hoping... well I'm pretty sure she came back here, I guess I'll try some other old haunts."

"We'll help," Ronon offered.

"Thanks guys, but I don't want to ruin your day," John said.

"Nonsense John, we will help," Teyla said in a way that brooked no argument.

"Thank-you, I'll take Rodney and try the north side, if you can cover the south?" John asked.

"No problem. You got a cell?" Ronon asked.

"I have," Rodney said, pulling a business card from his wallet.

"We'll call if we find them," Ronon said.

"You're number still the same?" John asked.

"Not changing it now, finally learned to remember it," Ronon said, laughing.

"Thanks again, really, we appreciate it," John said.

"It's not a problem John. We'll meet back here in a few hours if we haven't found them," Teyla suggested.

"Right. See you in three hours, if not before," John said, leading Rodney one way, while Ronon and Teyla went the other.

*~*~*~*~*

"Where are we going?" Rodney asked.

"There's a bar a few blocks over. An old friend of mine owns it, Piper might have gone there," John said.

"A bar?" Rodney asked, incredulous.

"It's fine, Evan's a good guy, if they went there, he'll keep them safe until he could reach me," John said.

"It's a bar. And Piper use to hang out there?" Rodney asked.

John felt the accusation. "I did a few shifts here and there to make a bit of extra money. I couldn't always get a sitter." It wasn't that they were badly off, his job in construction had paid well, but he was still paying of Jen's medical bills and around Christmas and Birthdays, John had needed a little extra cash.

Rodney didn't say anything, but John could hear the wheels in his head turning. "If they aren't there, where will we go?" Rodney asked. John was glad there was no pity or condemnation in his voice.

"There is a Basket Ball Court near the school, some of the kids hang out there," John said.

"And then?" Rodney asked.

"Lets just see if she's here first," John said. He hadn't thought as far ahead as if they weren't at the park. There weren't many other places Piper would go.

*~*~*~*~*

The bar hadn't changed much either. "Hey Julia, Evan or Kate around?" John asked the blond behind the bar. Rodney was drooling again.

"Evan's just bringing up a keg, should be up in a few minutes," Julia said.

"Thanks Julia," John smiled at her.

"I get you something while you wait?" Julia asked.

"Just a soda," John said. "Rodney?"

"Huh... oh, um sure, soda," Rodney blushed. John rolled his eyes.

"Sure thing sugar," Julia smiled sweetly at Rodney.

"Uh... Thanks," Rodney stammered.

"Avert your eyes before I avert your head," the man, John hadn't paid any attention to, turned to look at Rodney.

"What?" Rodney asked, looking flustered.

"You're eyes, that's my girl you're slobbering over," he said.

"I think there's been a misunderstanding," John said carefully.

"Damn straight," the man stood, wobbled a little on his feet and smacked Rodney.

"Ow! Ow! Ow!" Rodney cried, from his new potion on the floor.

"Hey now buddy, take it easy," John said, standing between the drunken man and Rodney.

John ducked when they guy took another swing and returned the attack, twisting him around until he was bent over the bar.

"What the hell! I go down stairs for five minutes..."

"Sorry Evan," John said, keeping a good grip on his prisoner.

"John? Michael, I might have known," Evan looked at the drunk.

"I'm sorry Evan, I..." Julia flushed.

"Take him home Julia, I'll handle the bar for now," Evan said, shaking his head.

"Fucking..." Michael made to lunge at John as soon as he was released, but John side stepped him and he landed on the floor.

"Come on Michael," Julia pulled him up.

"That jerk..."

"Please Michael, lets just go," Julia begged.

"Don't tell me what to do," Michael said.

"If she doesn't I will," Rodney said, stepping into the fray again. John thought it was the stupidest thing he'd ever seen Rodney do. Brave, but stupid.

"You little bastard, think you can take me?" Michael asked, posturing.

"No, but we've already established I can," John growled, drawing himself to his full height, putting every inch of menace he'd learned in the Air Force into his stance.

Michael looked ready to hit him anyway, but he wobbled uneasily on his feet again and stumbled towards the door.

"Julia..." Evan said.

"I know Evan..." Julia smiled sadly and followed Michael.

"Should she follow him alone?" John asked.

Evan shrugged. "She knows she's always got a place to come, but she won't leave him."

John nodded. He'd seen that before. In a neighbourhood like this, it wasn't as out of place, as it should be.

"What about..." John gave Rodney a look that said 'shut up' and meant it.

"Have you seen Piper?" John asked Evan instead.

"No, should I have?" Evan asked.

"She did a runner, I'm pretty sure she came back here, but Teyla hasn't seen her. Just checking out old haunts," John said.

"Well, she hasn't been here. If she had, I'd have called," Evan said.

"I figured. If you see her, Rodney here has a cell phone," John nudged Rodney.

"What? Oh..." Rodney fished another card out of his pocket.

"I'll call if I see her," Evan promised. "You want something for that eye before you go?"

John looked closely at Rodney's eye for the first time. Already it was starting to swell and darken. He'd have a hell of a shiner to show come morning.

"Maybe I should see a Doctor..." Rodney said, pressing at the tender flesh around his eye.

"It's just a black eye Rodney. Ice would be good thanks Evan," John said, sitting Rodney down, as Evan gave him a towel filled with ice.

"Hold this on you're eye. I'm going to give Ronon a quick call," John told him.

The call proved fruitless, Ronon and Teyla hadn't seen Piper and no one they'd spoken to had either. He told them he was going to check out the Court and then they'd meet them back at the apartment block, it hadn't been three hours, but John was already more worried than he liked to be.

Rodney gave him a questioning look as he removed the ice from his face.

"No, I told them we'd meet them back at the block after we'd checked out the basket ball court. You good to go?" John asked.

"My eye feels like it's trying to fall out of my head," Rodney said.

John snorted, oh yeah, he knew that feeling. "Come on Prince Ali."

*~*~*~*~*

John proves to be right about the basket ball court, he can hear the girls, before he sees them, Piper bragging and Madison squealing in delight, the way only young children can.

He thinks he means to be calm. Stern, but calm. He means to be, but as soon as he sees them, anger boils over and he yells.

"Piper Jane Sheppard!"

Piper looks over at him, the joy of triumph leaving her expression and the other kids around her, all take a step back. He has vague impressions of Rodney touching his arm before he's stalking towards her.

What exactly he says, is lost on him, he's so angry he just lets rip and even though Piper is crying, apologising, he keeps going. "Move!" he tells her, herding her forwards towards the entrance that will take them back out near the bar and shorten their walk to the car.

Rodney is carrying Madison and it seems strange, to see him calmly stroking her hair and muttering words John can't hear, but that don't sound angry.

Teyla asks them to stay for dinner, but John is still seething and he offers a rain check. "For when Piper if finally ungrounded in about a decade," slips out along with it, but he half heartedly promises to call Teyla the following week.

"Go easy on her John, you've made you're share of mistakes," Teyla tells him gently. John doesn't want to go easy, but he nods and by the time they are on their way home, he's almost calm. Almost.

*~*~*~*~*

It's barely four-thirty when they get back, but John makes dinner, while Rodney talks quietly to Madison in the living room, Piper sits like a field mouse at the table. No one speak through dinner.

"Bed," John tells them when they're done and he can see it's almost a relief for them. He's tempted to make them stay up a little longer, make them sit there in the repressive silence that's settled over them, but he'd afraid he'll explode again and the part of him that isn't still twisted in anger, knows that he shouldn't.

"Far be it from me to comment on anyone's parenting skills..." Rodney starts to say, as John loads the dishwasher.

"Then don't!" John spits back.

"Hmm... far be it from me," Rodney continues unheeding. "But don't you think you were a little rough on her."

"Rough? She got in a truck with a stranger, taking Madison with her. Went to Denver, and John supposed now he couldn't complain about how unsavoury Rodney made it sound, when he'd just done the same thing, they could have been kidnapped, killed..." and John is shaking with indignation, because why isn't Rodney as annoyed as him damn it?

"I'm just glad they're okay," Rodney says quietly.

John flops down on the chair, feeling the anger drain out of him. "They might not have been. The streets aren't safe the way they use to be." John says. And it's true, the streets aren't safe the way they use to be and neighbours don't take care of each other they way they use to. And anything could have happened to them out there. And that is terrifying, because he's lost Jen and he isn't sure he'd survive loosing Piper.

Rodney doesn't speak, though John suspects he knows what he's thinking and they both sit there in silence for a few minutes.

"I'll finishing clearing up," Rodney eventually says, it's the first time he's ever offered and John nods, because he isn't sure he has the energy anyway and he needs to go and speak to Piper.

"Thanks Rodney," John said. He hopes Rodney understands that it's not just for doing the clearing up.

*~*~*~*~*

Piper is asleep when he goes up and he thinks, maybe it's better to wait until morning, but she looks so much younger curled up with her ratty old teddy bear and tear tracks on her face, that he has to go over. He doesn't intend to wake her, but when he kneels down beside the bed and brushed her hair out of her eyes, she wakes up.

"Hey Pi," John murmurs.

"Daddy..."

"I know, I'm sorry too, I shouldn't have gotten so mad," John kisses her forehead and hugs her as tightly as he can manage at the odd angle.

"I just wanted to see my friends," Piper said.

"You could have told me, we could have gone up," John said. "But I understand why you didn't. I did the same thing when I wasn't much older than you. My Dad got another new posting, another new town. I got pretty good at making friends, but never let anyone get too close, because it hurt too much to leave them behind. We'd been in San Francisco for a while though; I figured it'd be okay and then we moved again. I was so mad at my folks, I ran away back to San Francisco," John told her.

"Was Granddad mad?" Piper asked.

"Mad? I thought he was going to spontaneously combust..." John chuckled, at the time it hadn't been funny.

"I got into a fight at school... the kids were teasing me because I'm not rich," Piper confessed quietly. John sighed. He'd expected this, but he's expected it a lot sooner.

"Pi, kids, they don't know better sometimes, you're every bit as good as them," John told her.

"I know, I guess sometimes I just wish I was like everyone else," Piper said.

"I know Pi, we all do sometimes. But you're perfect just being you," John promised.

"Even when I screw up?" Piper asked.

John chuckled. "Well, maybe not perfect," he said.

"I'm sorry I made you worry," Piper said.

"I know honey, you just scared me. I don't know what I'd do if I lost you," John said.

"I won't do it again," Piper promised.

"That's good enough for me. Get some sleep okay; it's been a long day," John said, standing up to tuck her in, giving her another kiss. "Night Pi."

"Night Daddy," Piper said. "I love you."

"Love you too," John said, closing the door behind him.

*~*~*~*~*

John was only half surprised when Rodney was sitting in the living room waiting for him to come down.

"Everything okay?" he asks.

John shrugs. "I don't think she'll be running away again."

"I didn't think she would be," Rodney snorts. "Are you okay?"

"I'm good. I guess I over reacted," John admits.

Rodney nods. It's a bit of understanding and compassion. John thinks he could be surprised by that, because even though they've made waves, little splashes of water against the rocks of Rodney's oblivious little world, Rodney can still be incredibly clueless and three months ago, he's not sure it would have occurred to Rodney to care. Which seems somehow unfair, but John knows it's true.

"I overheard... I wasn't being nosey, I checked on Madison and... I... well, I just want you to know, you don't have to worry about having to move. I mean, you're kind of annoying and I still can't believe you don't like hockey, but I've grown kind of use to having you around and I'm hoping you'll stay for a long time."

John feels relief flooding him. He's man enough in his own mind to admit, it was a concern. He didn't want to have to drag Piper from pillar to post, like he was dragged as a kid. He won't say that out loud though, so instead he smirks and puts on the deepest, most drawling voice he can muster, "Gee McKay, I never knew you cared."
Knock, Knock – Who's Bare by kez
John hummed to himself as he moved up the stairs. It was Rodney's birthday and Madison had begged John to plan something special. John chuckled, Rodney didn't even seem to notice his birthday was coming up, but Madison was so full of enthusiasm, John couldn't say no.

He would make a cake. "Chocolate, with frosting and a caffeine molecule painted in frosting on top," Madison had instructed him carefully, while Rodney was at work. But if he was going to get that done, Rodney needed to leave the house soon and there had been no sign of him all morning.

John knocked on the door, waiting for a few moments. When he didn't hear Rodney reply, he opened the door. Could he have gone out before John got up?

The bed was unmade and there were clothes haphazardly thrown on the floor. Neat was not Rodney's greatest quality. John moved through the room, picking bits up, tossing the clothes into the hamper in the corner. He wasn't sure why Rodney didn't keep it in the bathroom, but since most of his dirty clothes didn't end up in the hamper anyway, it didn't seem to matter.

John tossed another pair of boxers into the hamper and walked straight into a steamy bathroom and face to face with a very naked Rodney.

"Oh... sorry, I ah... sorry," John turned around quickly and closed the door behind him. Oh God, could it get any more embarrassing? John grabbed the hamper and beat a quick path down the stairs.

It wasn't that John hadn't seen other men naked. Hell, he was in the Air Force, if you went in shy, you sure didn't come out shy - the barracks were the kind of place where being shy would get you teased mercilessly, so you got over it pretty damn quick. But this wasn't the Air Force and it was his boss. John shook his head. It wasn't a big deal, at least it shouldn't be. Rodney would probably be… embarrassed because John had seen his complete lack of tan, but that didn’t mean John had to be. Embarrassed, that is. Well, maybe just a little.

*~*~*~*~*

Rodney came down the stairs looking flushed. "I'm sorry, really sorry, I should have knocked," John said immediately, because he was embarrassed, even if he wasn't quite sure why.

"Okay, you're sorry, really sorry!" Rodney said, flustered.

"I didn't see anything," John said.

"You saw everything!" Rodney's voice jumped a pitch.

"I've got a really lousy memory," John said.

"What's Pi?"

"3.1415926535897932..." John flushed. Rodney had figured out he had a talent for maths about a month after he'd moved in and had taken to randomly throwing out maths problems.

"Really lousy memory," Rodney said.

"That's... well I'll promise to forget this," John said.

"I'll just bet you will, what were you doing in my room anyway?" Rodney asked.

"Well it's a foreign concept I know, but I'm a housekeeper and part of keeping a house involves cleaning it... your room is part of the house," John said.

"I don't pay you to be sarcastic," Rodney said.

"No, you pay to me clean, which I was doing, or was trying to do. Do you even know what a hamper looks like?" John asked.

"Stop changing the subject, you saw me naked!" Rodney squawked indignantly.

"Who saw you... oh. Well that's... interesting," Elizabeth's entrance was really just the perfectly horrible end to a perfectly horrible morning.

"Let's just forget it," John said.

"I don't know, you let this fester and one of you might implode..." Elizabeth gave John a sympathetic look.

Rodney muttered. "Fine, whatever, forgotten, blah, blah. I have places to be, work to do, Elizabeth did you get that phone call arranged with..." and Rodney was already dragging Elizabeth towards the door leaving John standing alone in the middle of the living room.

John shrugged to himself... well that wasn't as bad as it could have been. Probably. And at least he was sure Rodney was out of the house now and he could get on with the birthday preparations. Elizabeth had strict orders to have Rodney home by six-thirty. So he'd better get a start on things soon if he wanted to have the cake finished before Madison and Piper got home.

Pushing the events of the morning to the back of his mind, John put a load in the washing machine, before he started pulling things together to make the cake. He wondered if it would be too sadistic to tell Rodney he'd used lemon rind... if he did, he was sure Rodney would deserve it, but one major McKay over reaction was about all John could handle in a single day. John chuckled and contented himself with the mental image Rodney would make if he did think there was lemon in his cake. It was enough to make John chuckle right through to mixing the frosting.

*~*~*~*~*

"Did you finish it?" Madison came rushing into the kitchen.

"Well hello there Madison, my day was quite lovely, how was yours?" John said.

Madison rolled her eyes in an impression of Piper that was so accurate it was scary. "Fine, fine, did you finish it?" and as soon as she opened her mouth, it was all Rodney.

"It's in the fridge," John said, chuckling.

"Did you do the caffeine molecule?" she asked.

"Just like you drew it," John promised.

"Good. He'll be home at half past six won't he?" Madison asked, her voice lowering unsurely.

"Elizabeth is under orders to hit him over the head and drag him home tied in a sack if she has to," John promised.

"I don't think he'd like that," Madison giggled.

"Do you think you could have run any faster?" Piper came in, dropping her school bag on the table.

"Ah..." John gave her a look.

Piper rolled her eyes. "I know, bag off the table. I'm just getting something out."

John watched with amusement as Piper pulled a book from the bag and let it flop open, pulling an envelope from the middle.

"What's that?" John asked.

"It's a card. We had art today," Piper shrugged.

John smiled. "I'm sure Rodney will love it."

"Whatever, I just didn't want to use my pocket money on buying one," Piper said, tossing the book back in her back and dropping it by the table.

"Homework, before Rodney gets home," John said.

"Cookies?" Piper asked.

"You're having cake later," John said.

"But..."

"Ah. Homework now, food later," John said.

"Can we have milk?" Madison asked.

"Sure M&M," John grinned, tugging one of Madison's pigtails on his way to the fridge.

"I'm not a chocolate," Madison grumbled, blushing.

"But you're so sweet," John grinned.

"Dad, how many moons does Saturn have?" Piper asked, as John poured two glasses of milk.

"Isn't that what you're supposed to tell me?" John said.

"But I don't know," Piper said.

"Well that's why you've got books... so you can look these things up," John told her.

"But I have to finish quickly today or..." Piper whined.

"Piper..." John gave her a look. It wasn't that he minded helping her with her homework, but he wanted her to figure it out on her own.

"I know, look it up," Piper sighed.

*~*~*~*~*

"Is he here yet?" Madison asked, again.

"No Maddie, it's only quarter past," John said. She'd finished her homework in record time, before rushing up stairs to 'get ready', six and already she was spending an hour getting ready.

"Maybe we should call Elizabeth, just to make sure they left on time," Madison suggested.

"Maddie, they'll be here, Elizabeth won't let him be late," John said.

Madison frowned. "But what if..."

"They're here!" Piper announced, from her spying position by the window.

"Well you'd better hide then," John said, watching as Madison and Piper disappeared into the kitchen.

John took his appointed position on the couch, lazily picking up a magazine, as Rodney came barrelling in the door.

"What are you doing here?" Rodney asked.

"Reading..." John replied.

"Why? Shouldn't the girls be having dinner?" Rodney asked.

"They went to a friend's house. Mrs. Cropper promised they'd be back by seven, should be back soon. I haven't started ours yet, I wasn't expecting you home so early," John flung the magazine down on the coffee table beside his feet. "I can start it now, if you're hungry, shouldn't take me long, I was just going to make some pasta."

"Pasta..."

"Yes, I got a new recipe I thought we could try, it's a pasta salad with tuna... it's supposed to have lemon juice, but I figured I'd just skip that," John shrugged lazily, standing up and stretching.

"I... fine..." and Rodney looked so disappointed, John had to bite his tongue to keep from laughing. Part of Madison's 'master plan' was to have Elizabeth drop birthday hints all day, so when he came home expecting something... big... and John was there apparently alone, he'd be even more surprised.

"I baked some cookies today, if you promise to eat all your dinner, you can have one while I cook," John said, grinned.

"Oh how nice of you," Rodney said, glaring, but he did follow John towards the kitchen.

"Surprise!" Piper and Madison jumped up from behind the table, with bright grins and silly paper hats. Elizabeth, who'd come in around the back, after Rodney came in the front, stood more sedately, by the sink, but Madison had conned her into wearing on of the hats.

"What..."

"Happy Birthday, Uncle Rodney!" Madison flung herself into him, holding on tight.

"I... um... thanks," Rodney looked speechless.

"Happy Birthday Rodney," Piper added a little more quietly, giving him a hug of her own, though a little more unsure.

"Thank you," Rodney said again.

"There's cake!" Madison announced. "And cards and presents. And John made those little sandwiches you like, with cream cheese and everything. And I got him to put a caffeine molecule on the cake, which is chocolate, because I'm not allowed coffee, but it looks really cool!"

"That's... I'm not sure coffee cake counts as coffee," Rodney said.

"No need to tempt her," John said, chuckling. Madison might be inheriting several of Rodney's traits already, but his caffeine addiction didn't need to be one of them.

"Cards and presents first!" Madison said.

Rodney nodded, dumb founded, as Madison arranged him on the chair she'd decorated with paper chains and an old table cloth. "This is your birthday throne," she told him.

"Thanks," Rodney said. "Why do I need a birthday throne?" he asked John quietly.

"Just nod and smile Rodney... at least there will be cake," John whispered, chuckling.

"Open this one first, it's from Elizabeth..." Madison announced, placing a neatly wrapped box and a blue envelop into his hands.

Rodney opened the card first, snorting.

It’s your birthday, so don’t feel down;
Don’t think bad stuff or frown;
Your life should be filled with mirth;
Just look what you’ve done since your birth.
You started out really small,
Now you’re filled out and tall.
In the beginning you would just cry,
Now you can laugh if you try.
You’ve done quite well since your start,
So as you grow older take heart;
Keep up the good work and don’t be a jerk.


"Gee thanks," Rodney said.

"I thought it was very you," Elizabeth grinned.

Rodney rolled his eyes and turned his attention to the gift. He looked at it and shook it slightly.

"If I was going to blow you up Rodney, I would have done it before now," Elizabeth laughed at him.

"Well you can never be too careful," Rodney huffed, but his lips were quirked in a smile.

"Open it!" Madison insisted.

Rodney looked at her, held it up to his ear and shook it again. John laughed. God help the world, if Madison inherited Rodney's penchant for dramatics. For that matter, God help him, one McKay in the household was enough. He wanted Madison to stay a Miller, so he could stay sane!

Taking far too much care, Rodney did as commanded, slowly peeling back the paper. "What is it?" Madison asked.

"It's a... I'm not sure," Rodney said.

"It's a digital notepad. You can scribble away and it'll save them as image files to look at later, or transfer to a computer," Elizabeth said.

"Isn't that why I have a laptop?" Rodney asked.

"Yes, but last time you took your laptop to the bathroom, you fried it by dropping it in the sink, this can go in your pocket," Elizabeth said.

Rodney blushed. "I didn't mean to drop it... but I suppose this might be useful..." he conceded.

"Now this one!" Madison said, handing him another gift, this one messily wrapped. "It's from me, John helped me buy it."

Rodney gave John a look, again opening the card first.

It takes wonderful things
To make an Uncle like you,
Generosity and kindness
To name just a few,
You're really very special
I want you to know,
Each year my love
Continues to grow,
I'm mighty fortunate to have
Someone like you,
An uncle that is loyal
Loving and true,
Warm thoughts and wishes
I'm sending to you,
A wish that all of your dreams
Will come true
.
Happy Birthday!


"It's very nice," Rodney smiled at Madison.

Madison grinned back. "Now you're present!"

Rodney carefully opened the gift. The blue shirt came with a matching tie and cufflinks.

"Auntie Laura always used to say you looked good in blue," Madison said.

"I know. It's very nice Madison, thank-you," and Rodney looked so utterly flustered, John almost took pity on him.

"Here's mine," Piper offered.

Rodney opened the envelope, pulling out the hand made card. John hadn't really gotten to have a look at it before, but it was obvious Piper had put a lot of work into it.

"Thank you, Piper," Rodney said, his fingers playing over the carefully embossed lettering.

One wish for you is not enough,
So here is wishing twice,
You're Birthday this and every year
Is especially nice.

Happy birthday


Piper shrugged, looking embarrassed. "There is a present inside... I didn't know what to get you, so it's just a token."

Rodney opened it and John laughed looking over his shoulders. A gift token for a gourmet coffee supplier in Colorado Springs. Poor bastards weren't going to know what hit them when Rodney came calling.

"There's one from John too!" Madison announced, giving Rodney the last of the cards and gifts.

The card was a generic 'when you're getting older' typed card and Rodney snarked, reminding John that he was two years older than him.

Rodney shook the gift, giving John a dubious look, but he opened it anyway.

"It's... this must have cost a fortune," Rodney said.

"Not really," John shrugged, embarrassed.

"Let me see..." Madison insisted.

"Oh, Daddy used to have a watch like that!" Madison said.

"You're always late for everything, now you have no excuse," John said. It really hadn't been that expensive, he was getting a damn good wage here and he could afford it.

"Thank you," Rodney said, looking at John carefully for a moment, before turning away flustered.

"Well, when do I get cake?" Rodney asked.

"Uncle Rodney!" Madison said. "There's lots of other stuff to eat first. And John got out my scrabble board."

"Oh really?" Rodney asked.

"Yep. And I call Elizabeth for my team," John said, chuckling.

"Fine, but I get Madison and Piper," Rodney said.

"Piper's not going to play against her old man," John said.

"Are you kidding? I want to win; I'm so on Rodney's team!" Piper said.

"Traitor," John grumbled.

"May the best me win," Rodney said laughing.

*~*~*~*~*

"I guess the best me won," John smirked.

"You cheated!" Rodney proclaimed.

"Sore loser," John said.

"Well you... you..." Rodney glared.

"Thank you," John said.

"Okay children..." Elizabeth laughed at them. "I think it's time for bed girls."

"Aww but..."

"But can't we just..."

"No. Elizabeth's right girls, it's past your bed time. Come on now... go get ready," John said.

Both of them huffed, but gave Rodney a hug and said Happy Birthday again, before heading up stairs.

"I'll help you clean up," Elizabeth offered.

"No, it's fine. You've done enough," John assured easily.

"Okay, I'll see you both tomorrow then," Elizabeth smiled, giving Rodney a kiss on the cheek.

"Thanks Elizabeth," Rodney said.

"You're welcome, night boys, have fun," Elizabeth said.

"I'll make some coffee before I go check on the girls and then clean up. Do you want a cup?" John asked.

"Is that a trick question?" Rodney asked.

John chuckled. "Not intentionally."

Rodney sat back on the couch, closing his eyes; he had a happy little smile on his face. John didn't think he'd ever seen him look so content.

"Coffee..." Rodney said, without even opening his eyes.

"Coming, coming," John laughed, lifting up the plates left on the coffee table from the cake.

He stuck the plates in the dishwasher, as the coffee machine created it's magic and he took the time to clear up the bits and pieces around the table. He covered the leftover sandwiches and put them in the fridge and folded the table cloth from the 'throne'.

Pouring the coffee, John grabbed a tray to take it into the living room. "Coffee, my Lord," John said. "Will I drink it for you too?"

"Hmm. I don't think that will be necessary," Rodney said, one eye opening carefully, but then he blushed again and closed it quickly.

John chuckled to himself; obviously Rodney was still embarrassed about that morning. John had completely moved past embarrassment and onto amusement, but then Rodney could be kinda neurotic.

"I'm going to go check on the girls," John said, leaving Rodney to drink his coffee.

Madison was already in bed, tucked up under the covers, she asked John if Rodney had enjoyed his party and John assured her, he had.

Piper whined and wanted to stay up a little longer, but John gave her a firm no and turned the light off on his way out the door.

He'd expected Rodney to still be on the couch when he went down, but he was no where to be seen, the tell tale light under the study door giving away his location. John shook his head in amusement. Apparently Rodney had had enough fun for one night.

Sitting himself down, he flicked on the TV idly. The rest of the clean up could wait half an hour.

*~*~*~*~*

For a few days, everything went back to being quiet and normal, or what passed for it in a house with a 'genius' physicist who was avoiding his housekeeper at any cost.

It had almost become like a game, for John at least, who found Rodney's continuing refusal to be alone with him, entertaining beyond words, but Rodney was coming home early tonight to pack for a trip over the weekend and he wouldn't have any time to torture him over dinner. Pity, it was fun.

"Hey Dad," Piper came in, Madison behind her.

"Hey kids, good day at school?" John asked.

"Meh, it was school," Piper shrugged.

"I got an A in my Spelling test," Madison said.

"Way to go M&M. I think that deserves first choice of desert," John said.

"Ice Cream!" Madison grinned.

John snorted. "Okay. What homework do you have?"

"Just some maths," Madison said.

"Science. I'll do it tomorrow, I need a book from the library," Piper said.

"Okay, Maddie, do you want to leave yours until tomorrow?" John asked her, it wouldn't be fair to let Piper go and watch TV while Madison was stuck doing homework.

"Okay. Can I help with dinner?" Madison asked.

John grinned. "Sure, Piper, you wanna help?"

"Not in this lifetime, I'm just not cut out to be a housewife," Piper said, sighing dramatically. "Can I go out and play some ball?"

"Sure, if you want, stay out back, no disappearing off," John reminded her.

"Where would I disappear too, Rodney has this place guarded like Fort Knox, even the cameras have cameras," Piper rolled her eyes. John shook his head with amusement, but didn't comment. After Piper and Madison's little disappearing act, Rodney had had every security system known to man installed. Lights, camera's, alarms, even if they made it outside, there were sensors in the ground that would set of alarms enough to wake the dead. It was overkill, but he had to admit, he slept a little more soundly knowing no one was getting in, or out, without waking up everyone in a two mile radius.

*~*~*~*~*

Madison was happily mashing up potatoes, when Rodney appeared, frowning when he saw her. "Don't I pay you to do that stuff?"

"Are you going to pay for Madison to have a life in housekeeper when she's grown up?" John asked.

"Don't be ridiculous," Rodney said.

"Well then, she'll have to mash her own," John said.

Rodney grunted. "If you want to help..." John smiled sweetly.

"I'd rather not," Rodney said.

"Uncle Rodney!" Madison chastised.

"What?" Rodney asked.

"Be nice," Madison said.

"I'm never nice," Rodney told her.

"Can't argue with that M&M," John said.

"Hmmm..." Madison seemed to consider it. "No, I guess not."

John bit his tongue to keep from laughing. Madison was so precocious sometimes, it was hard to think she was only six.

"I'm going to have a shower before dinner, are all my clothes ready?" Rodney asked.

"Your suits are hanging in your closet and everything else you asked for is just waiting to be ironed. I haven't had time yet, because I had to fix that leak in the garage," John said.

"Can you do them after dinner?" Rodney asked.

"That's the plan, unless you're in a particular rush for them," John said.

"Hmm... no, that's fine," Rodney muttered, already thinking of something else as he wandered into the other room.

*~*~*~*~*

John folded another shirt, setting it in the neat pile of freshly ironed clothes; Rodney was talking enough for a week, let alone a weekend.

"Hey Maddie," John said, balancing the clothes in one hand while he pushed open the door to the living room.

"Is Uncle Rodney going away for a month?" Madison asked.

John chuckled. "I hope not, otherwise I'll need to mail him some more socks."

Madison giggled. "Where is your uncle anyway?"

"He's in his study with Piper, helping her with her science homework... I'm still going to leave my maths for tomorrow, is that okay?" Madison asked.

"Sure Maddie. I'm just gonna take this upstairs and then I'll run your bath," John told her.

"Kay," Madison nodded, turning back to her book.

John shook his head. Madison spent half her time, head stuck in a book. She'd probably spend the other half glued to a computer, if she could get away with it.

John just left the stuff on the bed, figuring Rodney could pack it into his case on his own and went to run Madison a bath. Adding bubbles and laying out a towel, he double checked the temperature just as Madison appeared behind him.

"All set M&M," John said. "Ah, no books in the bathroom."

"But I'm at a really interesting part," Madison whined.

"And it will still be really interesting when you get out of the bath," John said. Honestly, he could appreciate her love of books and words, but she was only six, sometimes, she needed to get her head out of wonderland.

"Can I put the radio on?" Madison asked.

"Just don't turn it up too loud and don't touch it with wet hands," John warned, taking the book with him when he left.

*~*~*~*~*

John headed down the stairs, curious what Piper and Rodney were doing. Piper had told him she needed a library book, Rodney wasn't giving her all the answers was he? John really wanted Piper to find the answers herself.

He knocked on the door... Rodney got temperamental if you didn't knock before entering the study.

"Come in," Rodney called.

"Hey. Maddie's in the bath, your clothes are all ironed. What's going on in here?" he really hoped he didn't sound as whiney as he felt. Why was Piper going to Rodney for help with her homework?

"Hmm... oh just some experiments on heat conductive materials," Rodney shook his head dismissively.

"Riiight. Well when you're done with that, Piper it's bath time," John said.

"Daaaaad," Piper whined.

"Don't 'Dad' me. You've got half an hour," John said and he didn't really mean to sound so harsh, but Piper had always come to him for help, even if it was with homework. He wasn't stupid.

"But it's homework..." Piper complained.

"Well then, you should have done it earlier. It's too late now; you'll just have to finish it tomorrow. Half and hour," John reminded her, leaving them to their 'experiments'. Damn that was bugging him. He didn't know why, it shouldn't. Rodney was a scientist, of course Piper would go to him for help with science... but John wasn't stupid and he was her dad, it was supposed to be him she came to for help.

*~*~*~*~*

John pushed it to the back of his mind, at least as much as he could and let Piper have an extra ten minutes before he went looking for her again to get a bath. Fine, he'd spent every one of those ten minutes glaring at the clock, but he'd tried.

"You're jealous," Rodney said, the first words he's spoken to John since 'the incident' without having at someone else in the room.

"What?" John looked up from the newspaper. The girls were in bed, Rodney was all packed and John had plans to relax, assuming Rodney would spend the night hiding out in his study as usual.

"You. Are. Jealous." Rodney repeated.

"And what am I supposed to be jealous of?" John asked.

"Piper came to me for help," Rodney said.

"It was science homework, you're a scientist, it was an obvious choice," John said and really it was, of course it was. It still stung, but John wasn't going to tell Rodney that.

"Duh. But that doesn't make you any less jealous," Rodney said.

"If you say so Rodney," John gave Rodney his most disinterested expression and turned back to the paper.

"I know the feeling, jealousy. I mean, I'm smart, right, genius... but you're athletic and you're like a domestic god... I wouldn't know how to flip a pancake if my life depended on it... and my idea of athletics is straining to pick up my pen," Rodney said.

John frowns, but doesn't look up, because Rodney's developed this habit sometime in the last few months of sharing personal little bits of information like this that sends John's 'stoic warrior' running for the hills.

Jen use to glare at him, when he did that, which was fine, because she was a woman, it was part of being married, but he'd never met a man with the same predilection for over sharing.

In eight years of marriage, John had gotten use to 'emotional' conversations and raising a little girl alone, of course there were issues he had to deal with, but among his male friends, there was no such thing. It was all pretty much sports, women and cars. Rodney didn't like sports, never talked about women, except for one female physicist he worked with 'a dumb blond with curves in all the right places' and knew nothing about cars. John even had to change his oil for him.

John realised he'd been thinking a moment too long, Rodney was silent and when he looked at him, he looked nervous.

"We all have our strengths," John shrugged. What exactly did Rodney expect him to say? Rodney was never going to be an Olympic athlete, but then John was never going to be a world renowned physicist, so it was a fair trade.

"I guess, what I'm saying... is that you don't need to be jealous," Rodney said.

"Not jealous," John countered.

"Oh please. Look, it's fine, I get it, ex-military macho man, can't possibly admit to being jealous of an overweight scientist with a receding hairline," Rodney snorted.

"You're not that overweight, just a little... cuddly," and John couldn't even believe he'd said that.

"Well that's reassuring," Rodney snorted.

"It probably wouldn't hurt if you lost a few pounds," John said. "But you're not overweight."

"Yes well, my cuddly self is trying to make a point," Rodney said.

"Must have missed it," John smirked slightly. "I was distracted by the receding hairline."

Rodney glared. "Har-de-har. My point is..."

"I know, I don't need to be jealous," John said.

"Well... yes," Rodney said.

"You either... and you really shouldn't be embarrassed. Honestly... if you wanted, I could help you work out..." John offered.

Rodney snorted. "I'm not really a working out kinda person... but I guess a bit of exercise wouldn't kill me."

"I promise, if I ever try to kill you, I won't use a treadmill to do it," John chuckled.

"Well thank you. I will sleep so much better knowing that," Rodney said.

John laughed. "You're welcome, and um... thank you, for helping Piper out. I was a little... jealous. But I do appreciate it."

"It's okay, when Madison wants to know about football to impress boys, it's all on you," Rodney said.

"You'll let her near boys?" John asked.

Rodney nodded. "Of course I will, when she's about fifty."
Dinner For Two by kez
The day Piper turned thirteen, was one John hadn't been looking forward to. It was like she was suddenly going to age a decade overnight. She wasn't a kid anymore, she was a teenager. A teenager. His baby girl, who use to sit on his knee and beg him to play soccer, who use to come crying to him when she scraped her knee and have him read Cinderella every night for a month.

Now she was just as likely to beg him to drop her off a street away from a friend's house, or please don't come to watch her play soccer at school. John hated it, but at the same time, he was proud of the young woman she was becoming. Part of him thinks he now understands how his mother felt, when he was growing up. But he hopes Piper isn't doing any of the things he was doing at thirteen, because if she is, there are some boys out there who are going to meet his dark side.

Piper had looked forward to being thirteen; like most girls at that age she took every possible opportunity to tell anyone who'd stand still long enough to listen, that she was 'a young adult' now. John took every possible opportunity to embarrass the hell out of her, all those baby pictures Jen had taken years ago, were coming in really handy. Yeah, being a dad was fun sometimes.

He knew at least, that he'd gotten it right with her birthday present. Her 'young adult' vanished in childish delight when she saw the bike he'd gotten her.

"It's so cool!" Piper grinned. "Can I go out on it?"

"Later Pi," John said, "after cake."

"I could cycle to school!" Piper suggested.

"We'll see," John said. He wasn't sure about that idea.

Rodney's money made John shake his head, but Piper bounced with excitement, already planning all the ways she could spend fifty dollars.

"Not on junk," John said.

"I know Dad," and Piper rolled her eyes. John blamed that on Rodney. Completely.

Elizabeth's shopping vouchers, were at least more sensible, they were for one of the 'coolest' clothes shop in Colorado Springs. John gave Elizabeth a look that said she would be taking Piper shopping, because no way was John going to spend a day shopping with a teenage girl.

Madison had spent hours hiding in her room, painstakingly knitting a scarf under Elizabeth's supervision. The pretty purple and blue, scarf with red threaded through it, spent the rest of the day around Piper's neck.

It wasn't as bad as he thought it would be, being the parent of a teenager. But this was still only day one.

*~*~*~*~*

In the end, Piper being a teenager wasn't much different from Piper being a kid, especially when she wanted something. Like when she begged and pleaded and begged some more to please go with Elizabeth on an overnight trip to North Cheyenne Canon Park. John shook his head in wry amusement and said she could go. But she'd have to behave and if she didn't, she'd find herself grounded for a month.

Rodney was letting Madison go, so John decided the free weekend might be the perfect opportunity for a trip to Denver. Rodney had plans to entertain some college from work.

"Katie Brown," Elizabeth had told him. "She'd had a crush on Rodney for ages." Rodney had blushed and told Elizabeth to keep her nose out of it.

"You kids all packed?" John asked, watching Madison drag a hefty looking bag down the stairs.

"Yeah," Piper said.

"What you got in there Maddie?" John asked.

"Books," Madison said, like it was obvious and he should know better than to ask.

"Maddie, you're only going to be gone one night, do you really need a lot of books?" John asked.

"It's not a lot. Only seven. I have books on indigenous plant life, animal life, the history of the region and a couple of note books..." Madison said.

"Maddie honey, I really think John's right, you won't need all them," Elizabeth offered.

Madison frowned. "But then, how will I know what stuff is?"

"There is a visitor's centre there," Elizabeth said. "They'll have lots of information like that."

"Okay... I guess I could leave a few of them behind..." she agreed.

"Oh good, all packed and ready to go, try not to get eaten by any bears," Rodney said around a mug as he headed from the kitchen, back towards his study.

"We won't get eaten by a bear will we?" Madison asked.

"No Maddie, we won't," Elizabeth promised.

"But Uncle Rodney just said..."

"Your Uncle Rodney was just kidding M&M. Now, lets get this shindig on the road, or you'll never get there," John said.

John helped them get the bags into the car and double checked the petrol gauge.

"Bye Dad, I'll see you later," Piper gave him a hurried hug and jumped into the back of Elizabeth's car without a second glance. Huh teenagers.

"Have fun," John called, waving them off. Well, that was that. John checked his watch; he didn't need to leave for a few hours and it wouldn't take him that long to get ready. Maybe he'd see if Rodney needed any help setting up for his dinner date. He was pretty sure Rodney was getting a caterer in, but Rodney probably wouldn't know how to create a romantic atmosphere if they wrote instruction manuals in binary code. John chuckled to himself. He'd doubt if Rodney even knew the meaning of mood music.

*~*~*~*~*

Rodney glared at him as he breezed into his study. "What?"

"The girls are gone; shouldn't you be getting ready for your hot date?" John asked.

"What time is it?" Rodney asked.

"A little after 1400," John said.

"2pm? Why can't you just speak in English?" Rodney said.

"I thought I did," John said.

"1400 is not English it's... it's just not English," Rodney said.

"Right... so date..." John looked bemused.

"She's not due until seven-thirty, it doesn't take me five and a half to get ready," Rodney said.

"Well it's more like five hours and ten minutes..." John said.

"It still doesn't take me that long to get changed," Rodney said.

"And things like setting the table, candles, music..." John's expression upped the ante from bemused to amused.

Rodney looked confused for a moment that was followed by a look of panic. "Oh God, will she expect those things?"

"No wonder you're divorced," John chuckled.

"Separated. We haven't actually gotten as far as divorce yet... but Laura never expected any of that stuff... I mean, she never... um..." Rodney said.

"All women expect it Rodney. Just because they don't ask for it, it doesn't mean they expect it any less. Come on Einstein, lets go make sure you don't end up going to bed tonight with a glass of hot milk and a book on relativity." John said.

"Einstein created the theory of relativity; he wouldn't need to read a book on it. Besides, I never read in bed," Rodney looked vaguely offended.

"Alone is alone McKay, with or without the book," John said.

Rodney muttered. "But I have a lot of work to do."

"Okay, if all you want is the company of your own right hand, who am I to deprive you," John said.

"I hate you. I've mentioned that right. Please never bring my right hand up in conversation ever again," Rodney said.

"Sure thing Casanova. You wanna move it along before you're old and bald," John said.

"I'm not going bald, my barber just cut it wrong..." Rodney bristled.

John chuckled. Sometimes, he loved his job.

*~*~*~*~*

Predictably, Rodney knew nothing about creating a romantic atmosphere. Classical music *was* romantic, Mozart's Fantasia in D Minor, not so much. Although John had to admit, Rodney played it impressively well. It might be worth revisiting if they made it to a second date.

"Okay, this is more like it," John said, pleased with the effect they'd... okay mostly him, Rodney just didn't have a romantic bone in his body... had created.

"It's to dark, what if I fall and break something..." Rodney said.

"Don't be so over dramatic. The layout of the room hasn't changed, you don't need to see every nook and cranny," John said.

"But the table..."

"Rodney... calm down, before I break something," John said. "Like your neck."

"Oh that's just..."

"Rodney... it's almost six thirty. Go. Get. Ready. And if you want my recommendation, the blue shirt and tie Maddie got you for your birthday would be a good choice," John offered.

"I didn't," Rodney grunted, hammering his way up stairs.

John chuckled, double checking the settings on the hi-fi and decided it was about time he go ready himself.

*~*~*~*~*

Rodney did wear the blue shirt and tie, with a navy pinstripe suit John hadn't seen him in before.

"Looking good," John smiled easily. The blue really brought out his eyes and he was actually about to tell him that, when the phone rang.

"Hello?" Rodney answered.

John couldn't hear the other side of the conversation, but Rodney's face fell. "No, it's fine. Yes, I'll see you tomorrow."

"Katie?" John asked.

"Yes, she can't make it," Rodney said.

"Ah. Sorry," John offered.

Rodney shrugged. "These things happen. Shouldn't you be going?"

"I've got a couple of minutes," John offered.

"No need to hang around, I can clear all this up," Rodney said.

"I could..." the door went before John had to think of what he could do.

"Dinner for two..." the Italian man pushed his cart into the living room.

"Oh um... listen..." Rodney blushed. "It's just dinner for one."

"Two hundred dollars for dinner for one?" he asked.

"Um yes, I'm ah... just a slight change of plans," Rodney said.

"Right, well I'll be off," John said.

"No, no, don't leave. Come now, there is no quarrel between lovers that cannot be remedied by a romantic evening," he said.

"No, you misunderstand I..."

The waiting shook his head sadly. "No no l'amore non si lascia mettere da parte cosi' facilmente."

"Look... um..."

"Anthony."

"Right, Anthony, you've really got the wrong idea..."

"Please, you would not leave such a handsome man to dine alone, see how disappointed he is, though he tries to hide it," Anthony said.

"I'm not..."

"Look just... tell me how long those starters are going to take to set up, I'm starving," John sighed.

Anthony grinned. "But a few moments sir."

"Why did you let him think..." Rodney made a vague gesture with his hand between them.

"Just sit down and smile Rodney," John said.

"What about your other plans?" Rodney asked.

"I'll just be a little late," John smiled easily.

"I don't need you to stay, pity parties are really better with just one guest anyway," Rodney said.

"I'll be sure to remember that if I ever attend one. I'm only staying for the food. I'm in this for the Spaghetti mari e monti," John assured.

"That doesn't contain citrus does it, I asked for dishes without citrus," Rodney said.

John laughed. "No Rodney, no citrus."

"Ah laughter is the sunshine of l'amore," Anthony said.

Rodney blushed bright red and John laughed again. It should probably be bothering him more than it was that Anthony thought he and Rodney were... lovers, actually, it was just amusing.

"An Eggplant Parmigiana Entrée Gentlemen," Anthony smiled.

"Hmmm smells good," John said.

"Would you like wine?" Anthony asked.

"Sure, thanks," John said.

Rodney waited while Anthony poured it and left, before he spoke again. "You're very relaxed about this."

"It's just dinner Rodney," John shrugged. "We've had dinner together before."

"Not like this with the... candles and... he turned on the music, when did he do that?" Rodney said.

"Before he poured the wine," John said.

"Oh for... how can you not be bothered by the fact he thinks we're..."

"Lovers," John finished for him.

"Yes," Rodney said flustered.

"Relax Rodney, I promise, I won't expect you to put out on the first date," John chuckled. Rodney blushed and stuffed a piece of egg plant into his mouth.

John had to admit, this was actually kind of fun. A lot more than any real first dates he'd had. He thought it might help set Rodney to ease if he told him that, so he did.

"That's a sad commentary on your dating history," Rodney said.

"You have no idea. My first date with Jen, I was so nervous I spilled wine over her and then I almost ran over her cat," John tells him, he laughs, but at the time, it was unbelievably embarrassing. He'd been sure she'd never say yes to a second date.

Rodney laughs with him and it does seem to ease him. "My first date, I was so nervous I vomited all over my dress shoes before I left the house. I had to wear my dads and they were three sizes too big. I ended up tripping over myself and almost pushing my date down a flight of stairs."

John lets out a full blown belly laugh; Rodney gives him a vaguely offended look before he starts laughing too. It is funny.

Rodney relaxes further and suddenly, it isn't so bad. They bounce back and forth, covering a range of topic. John shocks Rodney by telling him he qualified for Mensa, but just never got around to joining and Rodney amuses John with tales of the idiots he taught in Physics 101, while working on his doctorate.

"Ah, I see you two have made up," Anthony smiles happily, when he serves desert. "Tiramisu." He tells them smiling. He's been in their kitchen, so he's probably seen the state of the art coffee maker Rodney has. Tiramisu combines coffee and chocolate. It's like an orgasm in desert form for Rodney.

When John tells Anthony he can go on, that they can take things from here, Anthony gives him a wink that suggests he thinks he and Rodney are going to... do something they don't do. But John's already missed any chance he has of making it to Denver tonight and his date will probably never speak to him again, so he lets Anthony think what he likes and spends another half hour laughing with Rodney over Piper's latest crush and Rodney confesses he dreads the day Madison comes home with a crush.

Somewhere, after John told Rodney the real problem wasn't the crushes Madison told him about, but the ones she didn't but before they'd finished their third cup of coffee, John realised this was the best date he'd had in years. And he couldn't remember when he'd started thinking of it as a real date.

After he realises, he spends a few minutes quietly freaking out, because he's thinking about Rodney in terms he hasn't thought about anyone in, for a long time. And hasn't thought about another man in those terms, since he was fifteen years old. Back when he was fifteen, John knew better than to go down that road, because his father would have killed him. When he'd gotten older and joined the Air Force, it was not and option and then there was Jen. He'd never have done that to her. Was 38 too old to be having an identity crisis?

"I had fun... tonight," Rodney admits quietly.

"Yeah. Me too... it was nice to have a quiet night without the kids," and John isn't sure why he adds that, except that he can not be having thoughts like those about Rodney. Because even if the guy thing doesn't complete bother him, this is Rodney. If nothing else, he's John's boss and that's never a good idea. Also, as far as John knows, Rodney is completely straight.

"You missed your... thing..." Rodney said.

"No big deal," John shrugged, because it really isn't a big deal and John thinks he had more fun here, than he would have had if he'd gone out anyway. He isn't telling Rodney that thought.

"I guess we should clear up," Rodney suggested. And John can feel the atmosphere changing. The easy banter has gone and they're both tense. John isn't sure why Rodney's tense, but he doesn't want to ask.

"I'll do it in the morning, I'm beat," John said.

"Okay..." Rodney agrees.

Rodney goes to bed first and despite what he said, John does gather up the plates and put a load in the dishwasher. Once he starts that, he goes ahead and starts to clear up the rest of the stuff and when he finally puts the last dry plate in the cupboard, it's after 2am and John realises he's exhausted.

He tramples up the stairs and for a moment, he pauses outside Rodney's door. He thinks about knocking, but he knows Rodney has to be asleep by now and even if he wasn't, John isn't sure what he'd say if Rodney did answer.

He shakes himself out of it. A single dinner doesn't mean anything and John isn't ready to change 38 years of being straight, to put his daughter through another move for something that is probably just brought on by too much wine.

Closing his door firmly behind him, John temporarily ignores years of military training and drops his clothes in a trail to the bed, where he falls asleep on top of the covers.

*~*~*~*~*

John woke up later than he'd thought, it was almost ten, but he didn't hear screaming kids, so that was okay. Rodney, was sitting at the kitchen table, coffee cup in one hand, laptop attached to the other. John snorted to himself. Something's never change.

"There's coffee," Rodney told, grunted at him.

"Thanks," John muttered, already pouring himself a mug. He added a sweetener, because Rodney took his coffee stronger than even a hardened Air Force Officer could take it, and sat across the table from him.

"Elizabeth called. They are going to be back this afternoon; apparently there is some trail walk they just have to take first..." Rodney's reproach at the idea of spending time in the outdoors voluntarily made John snort into his coffee.

"Good, that'll give me time to do a grocery run before they get back," John said, already running through his mental grocery check list.

"Everything was tidy this morning..." Rodney blurts out after a moments consideration.

"Yeah, I thought I'd put the dishwasher on before I went to bed... and once I'd done that, just seemed sensible to clear everything else away," John shrugged.

"I was going to help..." Rodney said. John chuckles, Rodney hates cleaning, it's the reason he has a job. "I was..." Rodney defends, like he knows what John is thinking.

"I believe you Rodney, it's fine, really, it's all done now anyway. You can do the after dinner clean up tonight, if it means that much to you," John suggested.

Rodney snorted derisively. "If I wanted do it myself, I wouldn't bother paying you."

John sniggers.

"See if I try to be nice ever again," Rodney grumbled, grabbing another mug of coffee before his laptop and he disappeared into his office.

John finished his coffee, before taking pity on Rodney and making them both some toast and eggs, taking some through to the study. Normally he refused to allow Rodney to eat in there, but given last night, he thought it would be for the best.

He was right. Rodney was bent over his tower unit, fiddling with something and John was absolutely not paying attention to his ass. Absolutely not. John hustled out of there before Rodney could even look up and tossed his own breakfast into the trash as he headed for the doors. To go on the grocery run, that was all... after all, they needed to eat.

Damn. Double damn.

*~*~*~*~*

If John expected things to be different, they weren't, aside from his own quiet freak outs, when he realised he was developing feelings for his boss, he really shouldn't be, everything was normal when he returned home. He didn't have time to think on it too much, because the girls were soon back, rushing over the top of each other to tell him every little detail of their trip.

"Okay, okay. Slow down. God how much can you have gotten up to in a day?" John asked, mostly rhetorically, but the girls rushed to tell him, talking over the top of each other again.

The noise drew Rodney from his study. "What's going on out here, a rock concert?"

"Hey Uncle Rodney!" Madison yelled with delight as she threw himself into Rodney's arms.

"Yes, thank you I think you cracked a rib. I assume you had a good time then?" his voice was prissy and irritated, but his eyes softened, at Madison's obvious delight.

"Why don't we all just sit down with some cookies and you can tell us all about it," John suggested.

"That's a good idea," Elizabeth offered with a smile.

"I'm in the middle of... oh fine, but I want my milk in coffee," Rodney blustered, sitting down.

John put a fresh pot of coffee on and poured the girls milk, setting a plate of apple crunch cookies in the middle of the table.

"Oh how cute..." Rodney said, before he bit the head of an unsuspecting bear. Madison giggled, copying him.

"What did the bear ever do to you," John chuckled, setting a mug of coffee before Rodney. Rodney just snorted and took another bite.

"Now, one at a time..." John suggested, sitting down to hear the girls tale.

*~*~*~*~*

When Madison had run off to write about her trip for school and Rodney had gone back to hide in his study and Elizabeth blushed around her excuses to leave after Madison and Piper told them about her flirtation with the hotel manager, Piper and John were left alone.

"Did you have a good time last night Dad?" Piper asked.

"Actually, I stayed home," John told her. He'd told her about his date, because she was old enough now to understand and he tried never to lie to her about those sorts of things. It was part of the reason he'd dated so infrequently since Jen died. No dating meant nothing to tell and fewer reasons for Piper to get upset or confused by having women she hardly knew come in and out of her life, if John's relationships didn't work out.

"Oh. I thought you were looking forward to seeing Teer again," Piper said.

"Well I was," John shrugged. He liked Teer, for a while back in Denver, they'd have a flirtation of sorts, but he wasn't honestly disappointed about missing out. "But Rodney and I had a nice quite kid free evening with some steak and chips."

Okay, so that was a lie, but he wasn't going to tell Piper they'd shared a romantic meal, by candle light. Because it really wasn't what he knew it would sound like. Even if maybe he had considered it for the briefest of moments. Very insane, wine addled moments. 'Sure John, just keep telling yourself that', John's mind supplied in a voice that was odd reminiscent of Rodney at his sarcastic best.

Piper shrugged, seemingly unconcerned. "I'm gonna go find Maddie."

"Okay, don't make too much noise, Rodney is trying to work," John reminded her.

"I know Dad," Piper rolled her eyes and snagged another couple of cookies on her way up stairs. John should really have called her on that, food wasn't generally allowed in the bedrooms, but he could let it go this once.

*~*~*~*~*

John was completely impressed with himself when he managed to act relatively normal around Rodney in the following days and weeks. Actually, by the time the month was up, he was sure Rodney had completely forgotten all about it. John mentally patted himself on the back. Of course he hadn't completely forgotten it all, but he was most certainly not freaking out about it.

"Make up the spare room!" Rodney announced, when he arrived home a week after Madison's seventh birthday.

"Okay..." John gave him a questioning look.

"An old friend from Grad School is coming to town, I said she could stay here," Rodney said.

"Oh... and does this 'friend' have a name," John asked with a highly suggestive smirk.

"Just because your brain resides in your pants... Lindsey is an old friend, she introduced me to my ex, if you must know," Rodney said.

"And you're still on speaking terms?" John asked.

"I'm still on speaking terms with Laura. Besides, it was hardly Lindsey's fault I was stupid enough to get married," Rodney said.

"Okay. I'll make up the spare room. When's she arriving?" John asked.

"Hmmm oh this evening, she said her flight will land around six-thirty," Rodney said.

"That was a half hour ago Rodney!" John said exasperated. "I wasn't planning on an extra mouth at the dinner table."

"Um... oh. I meant to come home earlier," Rodney has the good sense to look abashed.

John really, really wanted to say something sarcastic, but Rodney was looking at him all apologetic and he couldn't stay damn well angry when he was like that.

"It's fine Rodney, just in future, a little more warning please," John said.

"I promise, scouts honour," Rodney said.

"You were a scout?" John asked.

"Sure. For about thirty-three minutes. And then the scout leader threw me out. My dad was so mad I was grounded for a month. Didn't bother me in the slightest," Rodney said.

John laughed. Oh yeah, there was the Rodney he knew and... liked. "I'll go make the bed up and then see what I can do about making dinner stretch."

"Thanks, you're the best housekeeper ever," Rodney said.

"Just remember that when it comes time to discuss my raise," John laughed, watching Rodney's mouth open and close like a goldfish, it wasn't attractive... really it wasn't.

*~*~*~*~*

Lindsey it turns out is a lovely woman. She reminded John a lot of his wife in looks, the same colour hair, cut in a more conservative style than Jen's, but almost as long. The kids adored her on sight. She was pretty, funny and completely interested in John. Normally John would have been a little embarrassed, but Rodney was embarrassed enough for both of them, so John played it up.

It was fun, flirting with a beautiful woman and embarrassing the hell out of Rodney at the same time.

"Do you have to do that..." Rodney hissed when Lindsey excused herself to go powder her nose.

"What?" John asked innocently.

"Be such a complete man-slut," Rodney said.

"Man-slut?" John asked amused.

"If you drooled over her anymore, you'd flood the house," Rodney said.

"Hey, you said you guys were just friends..." John gave his best 'harmless and innocent' expression.

"We are. But that doesn't mean you have to... slobber like a dog," Rodney said churlishly.

"It's okay Rodney, if you're interested in her, I'll back off," John promised.

"I am not interested in here," Rodney said.

"So it's okay if I am?" John said.

"I... you... fine," Rodney huffed.

John smirked. Rodney was just so easy to wind up sometimes.

*~*~*~*~*

"Can I borrow John for the day, Rodney?" Lindsey asked over breakfast.

"Um..."

"Well, you're so busy with work, I thought perhaps John would show me around," Lindsey smiled.

"I... that's really up to John," Rodney said.

"John doesn't have any problem with it," John said.

"Oh great," Lindsey smiled brightly.

"Yes, well, that's fine then," Rodney said.

Rodney went to work, leaving John to entertain Lindsey and John had fun doing it. Lindsey was so easy to be around. And Piper was already her most adoring fan. John really didn't find it hard to flirt or to enjoy the flirting.

"I've had a wonderful day, John," Lindsey said, smiling sexily.

"Me too," John said.

"I'd hate for it to be over..." Lindsey said, moving closer.

"It's kinda late," John said.

"I'm not tired," Lindsey said, wrapping her arms around John's neck and drawing him down into a kiss.

John pulled her closer, his fingers clasping in her hair, breathing in her scent. His body remembered how this went and it liked it... certain parts of him were certainly interested in going further, but John pulled back.

"Lindsey, I like you, but... I don't see this going anywhere," John told her.

"Does it have to go anywhere John, can't we just be too adults having a bit of fun?" Lindsey asked.

"I have a daughter to think about and this is my place of work. I don't want to confuse her or loose my job," John said.

"Rodney won't fire you, we're not... and never have been... involved,"

"Maybe not. But I still have Piper to consider," John said.

"What she doesn't know, won't hurt her," Lindsey smiled. "Come on John, you know you want to... I want to, where's the harm."

"I'm sorry Lindsey, but no. I think it's best we just say goodnight and go to bed," John said.

"Then I guess, this is goodnight," Lindsey caught him in another kiss. Hungry like John hadn't experienced in far too long and he was so tempted... but he pulled back.

"Goodnight," he croaked.

Lindsey sighed, disappointed. "Your loss. Goodnight John."

*~*~*~*~*

When John came back from the gym, the next day, Lindsey was gone. Part of him was disappointed, but most of him knew it couldn't go anywhere, so there was no point worrying about it.

"Why didn't you sleep with her?" Rodney asked, completely out of left field, over dinner that night.

"I'm sorry?" John gives him an incredulous look. That's just not a question you ask your housekeeper. Or anyone. Period.

"Well, she's a beautiful woman and she did everything but strip off in front of you, but you didn't..." Rodney either had the shame or the good sense to look like he did, when he asked.

"She was a beautiful woman," John agreed. "But if I went to bed with everyone I was attracted too, there would be a string of 'hello who are you' mornings at the breakfast table and Piper doesn't need that."

"So, it was just because of Piper?" Rodney asked.

"Mostly yes," John shrugged. It was true; he didn't want a string of nameless, faceless partners in his bed, or at his breakfast table.

"Oh. Okay," and if Rodney wanted to ask, what wasn't covered by that 'mostly' he didn't and John was glad of that, because he wasn't ready to explore that too deeply yet himself, let alone have someone else exploring it with him.
Don't it make my Blue eyes... Green by kez
Madison giggled at John's impression of Piper, who had come home excited by the 'cutest new boy' at school.

"I hate you," Piper glared, arms folded across her chest.

John grinned and chuckled. "I love you too Pi."

He was about to say something else, when a whirlwind flew through the kitchen. Rodney entered in through the back door, grabbed a cup of coffee, two power bars and a frozen yoghurt, without showing the slightest sign he'd even seen any of them sitting there, before heading out the other door, for his study.

"That was new, he normally at least stops to insult me," John said.

"Oh well," John shrugged. "He's probably just come up with some brilliant scientific discovery on the way home and needs to write it down ASAP."

"I wanted to show him my science project..." Madison said frowning.

"I'm sure he'll look at it later M&M, or in the morning. You girls finish your dinner and you can go watch TV for an hour," John said.

*~*~*~*~*

Rodney didn't appear before the girls went to bed, or after it. John sighed. It wasn't like he wasn't use to Rodney skipping meals, or having to be forced to the dinner table to actually eat them, but he generally told John there was a high probability of that, so John could prepare accordingly. Maybe they were getting too use to each other.

That made John snigger and then smile to himself. They'd been here almost a year, Christmas was just around the corner and then his birthday. Another month after that would be the anniversary of their first year. Who'd have believed it? Shaking his head, John decided it was time to drag his wayward boss to the table.

"Rodney..." John knocked carefully on the study door and opened it. He'd walked in on Rodney's blizzard of papers before, where there were dozens of stacks of paper all over the place, three or four laptops all open but this was... different.

Rodney was sitting on the floor, laptop at his knee, notepad in hand, but everywhere else was neat. No papers pulled out, no other laptops running twenty programs simultaneously, he'd even thrown the power bar wrappers in the bin instead of just leaving them at his heel.

"Rodney?" John said.

"Yes?" Rodney asked, without looking up.

"Everything okay?" John asked.

"Yes." Rodney replied.

"Figure out the secrets of the known universe?" John asked. He was never sure exactly what Rodney did when he went to work, he was remarkably tight lipped about it, for a man who was incapable of keeping his mouth shut most of the time, but Rodney swore time and again, he was going to save the universe. John wasn't sure how he was going to do that from inside a mountain, but then; he guessed that was the point of 'top secret'.

"I'm plotting how best to destroy it actually," Rodney said.

John snorted. "Sounds more like the Rodney McKay I know. Why are we plotting the destruction of the known universe?"

"I am plotting the destruction of the known universe, because people are just too stupid to exist," Rodney said.

"Well that explains Earth, what did the rest of the universe do to piss you off?" John asked.

Rodney glared. "Okay, so how are you planning on doing it?" John changed tactics.

"I haven't quite figured it out. Destroying Earth is relatively simple, it's the rest of the universe that's posing a logistics problem," Rodney admitted.

"Hmmm... thermodynamic reactions in the sun... if you could figure out how to create a cascade effect," John suggested.

"I thought of that, it's creating the cascade effect that's the problem, our solar system isn't ideally placed," Rodney said.

"Sucks to be us," John shrugged.

Rodney sighed. "You aren't as stupid as you would like people to believe."

"Oh I'm every bit as stupid as I would like people to believe. I just know a lot more stuff than people need to know I know," John said.

"That's stupid," Rodney announced.

John shrugged. "So who pissed of the great Doctor McKay?"

"I'm smart. I mean, I know a lot of people think it's ego talking but it's not, I really am smart. I done stuff people couldn't even begin to imagine... but no one will ever recognise that. At least probably not in my lifetime. Idiots I can think rings around are getting prizes and grants... peer acclaim," Rodney frowned.

"Who is it?" John asked.

"Dr. Melvin Kavanaugh. We worked together for a while, he's... not stupid but he's... not very inventive," Rodney said.

"And he's getting an award?" John asked.

"And a grant for five million dollars," Rodney said. "I'm not bothered about the money. I get very good money and the project gets very good money, funding isn't a problem, but..."

"It'd be nice to get some recognition," John finished for him.

"I know what I'm doing is important. But Kavanaugh is getting an award for work I did three years ago!" Rodney said.

"Working on classified projects is a bitch," John agreed.

"I'm being needy aren't I?" Rodney asked.

"Maybe a little," John said. "But I get it." He did get it, when he'd been in the Air Force; he'd been involved in more than his fair share of classified ops. The kind no one got to know about. And there were no parades, no heroes welcome. You saved lives everyday and no one got to hear about it. Sometimes it would have been really nice to get a little recognition.

"I got an invite to the awards ceremony," Rodney said.

"You gonna go?" John asked.

"I don't think so," Rodney said.

"You could go and embarrass him by being immensely intelligent," John suggested.

Rodney laughed. "Everyone there will be intelligent. Not as intelligent as me of course, but who is."

"You could take Elizabeth, impress them with a beautiful woman on your arm," John offered.

"Elizabeth would eat me for breakfast if I even suggested it," Rodney said.

John chuckled. "True."

"I think I'll just send my apologies and go hide under my bed for a month," Rodney said.

"Yeah, that'll impress them," John said.

"Sarcasm doesn't suit you," Rodney grumbled.

"Not as much as it suits you," John nodded agreeably. "So i'll get your tux dry cleaned then?"

"Bastard. Fine, yes, I'll go. Dazzle them all with my wit and charm and make Kavanaugh look like a fifth grader, but I won't enjoy it," Rodney said.

"Except for the last part," John chuckled.

"Maybe," Rodney said, chuckling. "Just a little."

*~*~*~*~*

The awards dinner was on a Friday night in New York. Rodney flew out Friday morning and back the following day, arriving back at the house around half-twelve.

"Hey Rodney," John looked up from his book.

"Where are the girls?" Rodney asked.

"Elizabeth took them shopping. Something about underwear... I didn't ask," John shrugged.

"Oh," Rodney gave him this knowing look. "When Jeannie got her first bra, mom dragged me out shopping with them. Never. Ever. Again. I wouldn't even go shopping for underwear with Laura."

John chuckled. "I went with Jen once. I'm with you on the Never. Ever. Again. So how was New York?"

"Cold. But not entirely a waste of my time," Rodney said. "Kavanaugh hates his job."

"Oh? You didn't brag too much did you Rodney?" John asked.

"Of course not!" Rodney gave him a look of surprise. "Would I do that?"

"Yes," John said, laughing.

"Well... I might have bragged a little. But I offered him a job, so I think I was pretty nice, over all," Rodney said.

"You are a strange man Rodney McKay," John said.

"Well, he's a little linear, but he's not a complete idiot and with training... well, completely retraining, he might even prove useful," Rodney shrugged.

John laughed. "You want some coffee?"

"Oh God yes," Rodney said. "Aeroplane food is good, Aeroplane coffee is just wrong."

John snorted and got up. "I'll put a pot on."

"So what did I miss?" Rodney asked, following John towards the kitchen.

"Nothing exciting. Took Maddie and Piper to a movie last night. Some awful animated thing, but they enjoyed it," John shrugged.

"Hmm, think I'm glad I missed that," Rodney said.

"It could have been worse. At least there was popcorn," John grinned.

"It could have been better. There could have been scantily clad blondes," Rodney said.

"I thought your ex was a red-head," John said.

"She had her hair dyed blond when we met," Rodney shrugged.

John chuckled. "Maybe that's why it didn't work out."

*ring, ring*

"Hello?" Rodney picked up the phone and frowned. "Excuse me?"

John turned his attention from the coffee maker to give Rodney a questioning look. "I think it's for you," Rodney told him, twisting his face up.

"Hello? Oh Evan, hey," John said. "What? Damn, that sucks. No, I don't think so. Okay, next month. Bye."

"Who was that?" Rodney asked.

"Evan, poker night is off," John said.

"Why? I thought someone had to die before you called of poker night," Rodney said.

"Someone did," John said.

"Oh... oh sorry I didn't..." Rodney blushed.

"Joking Rodney," John laughed. "Eugene was supposed to be hosting this month but he and his wife had a little... disagreement. He'll be lucky if he's allowed out after dark for the next month."

"Oh. Well why don't you have it here then?" Rodney asked.

"Um... I didn't think... you'd be okay with that," John said.

"You've been here almost a year. You can bring friends over. It's allowed honest," Rodney said, rolling his eyes like John was the biggest idiot, ever.

"Okay. Sure, thanks. I'll call Evan back then, tell him we're on, here. Thank you Rodney," John smiled.

"Blah, Blah, Blah, Yadda, Yadda, Yadda. Just keep them out of my study and away from anything that can explode," Rodney said.

"Absolutely. Scouts honour," John said.

"I thought you were making coffee," Rodney said.

"I am," John said.

"Well make it faster, because a caffeine deprived McKay is a less magnanimous McKay."

"Sir, Yes, Sir!" John snapped of a salute and gave Rodney a cheeky grin.

Rodney glared, but his eyes were sparkling with laughter. "Coffee now, stupidity later."

*~*~*~*~*

"Do you think you bought enough beer?" Rodney asked.

"Hmm... you're right, maybe I should call Evan to bring an extra case," John said.

"God, sarcasm really is lost on you," Rodney said.

John grinned. "An extra two cases then?"

"Are your friends planning to walk home?" Rodney asked.

"No, Steven doesn't drink, he'll take them home," John said.

"You mean there is someone in your band of merry men that is tee-total?" Rodney said.

"Believe it or not," John said, amused.

"The jury is still out. Do we need anything else? Food or something?" Rodney asked.

"Chips, pretzels, nuts... all accounted for," John said.

"That's your idea of food? I meant real food," Rodney said.

"It's poker night Rodney, not a dinner party. Cucumber Sandwiches and Prawns don't go well with beer," John said.

Rodney frowned. "Well pardon me, but I'm new to this."

"Rodney, relax. It's not a big deal, just the guys getting together to play a few hands of cards and shoot the breeze, trust me, there is nothing exciting or interesting about it," John said.

"Then why do it?" Rodney asked.

"Girls go shopping, or on spa trips and the like. Guys drink beer, eat junk and play poker," John shrugged.

"I've never played poker," Rodney said.

"It's easy, you'll pick it up in no time, just don't pick it up before I've won a few hands," John said.

"Oh no, I didn't mean... I have no intention of intruding," Rodney said.

"Intruding? Rodney this is your house, you're good enough to let us play here, of course you're invited to play," John told him.

"Oh right, really?" Rodney asked.

"Of course, Rodney. Why wouldn't we invite you to play?" John said.

"I'm you're boss, I didn't think you'd want me cramping you're style," Rodney said.

"You kidding. That you're my boss will just make it all the sweeter when I kick your ass," John smirked.

"Oh please. You'd better wake up, you're dreaming again," Rodney said.

"Tough talk from someone who doesn't even know how to play," John said, chuckling.

"Just you watch Mister. You are so going down," Rodney said.

"Oh I'm scared," John laughed, ducking out of the way when Rodney went to slap him on the back of the head.

"Now, now boys, play nicely," Piper said, standing hands on hips at the door.

"But Mom, do I have to?" John whined.

"Oh my God, you are such a big kid," Rodney rolled his eyes.

John grinned. "Yeahsureyabetcha. You girls have fun today?"

"We bought some stuff," Piper shrugged. John was glad she didn't go into what stuff. Something's, a father just didn't want to think about in relation to his teenage daughter.

"Hi John, Rodney. Girls, go get your overnight bags, Mrs. Kelly is expecting you soon," Elizabeth said.

"Thanks for taking them Elizabeth, "John said.

"No problem, I'm heading into town anyway," Elizabeth said.

"Yes... So I can see. You got a hot date?" John asked, nodding slightly towards her outfight. The black dress was just short of her knees, tight in all the right places and with a sparkling pearl belt. Her hair was pulled up from her face, held in a neat clasp.

"I'm meeting an old friend for dinner," Elizabeth said, blushing.

"Well, he's a lucky man," John smiled. "You look absolutely stunning."

Elizabeth smiled. "Thank you, John."

"Yes, you look very nice," Rodney added.

"Thank you, Rodney," Elizabeth said.

"Ready!" Piper announced bouncing down the stairs two at a time.

"Eager to get going Pi?" John asked, amused when Piper blushed.

"I'm just eager to get out of here," Piper said.

"Trying to sneak off before I get here? A guy could be hurt Princess," Evan arrived at the front door behind Elizabeth.

"Hey Uncle Evan," Piper said shyly.

"I'm ready," Madison said, coming down the stairs behind Piper. "Who are you?"

"I'm Evan, you must be Madison," Evan smiled at the young girl.

"He's not that cute," Madison announced, looking at Piper.

"Maddie!" Piper squeaked embarrassed and chased the younger girl out the door.

"Good luck with those two," John laughed.

"I think Amy is the one who's going to need it," Elizabeth said, chuckling as she followed them.

"So... you must be Doctor McKay," Evan offered his hand out to shake Rodney's.

"Yes, hi, welcome..." Rodney shook Evan's hand.

"Rodney this is Evan Lorne, we were in the Air Force together," John did a proper introduction.

"Pleasure to meet you," Evan said.

"Thanks. Do you want a beer?" Rodney asked.

"Beer would be good," Evan smiled. "He's... different than I expected," Evan said when Rodney disappeared into the kitchen.

"You get use to him," John shrugged.

"So I see..." Evan gave him a knowing look. A look that said they'd talk about it later, as Rodney returned with two bottles of beer.

*~*~*~*~*

The others arrived together, Steven still arguing with Eugene over a wrong turn they'd taken and Aiden stayed wisely out of it. It didn't take long until everyone was settled, stories being tossed back and forth, mostly embarrassing, always amusing as hands of cards were dealt.

Rodney looked at his hand carefully, biting his lip. 4-8 of clubs... that was a straight flush, a good hand... "I'll see you and raise five dollars," Rodney sets the money down.

"I'll see you," Evan said.

"Okay, time to show your hands boys," John says.

Evan puts his cards down first. "Flush, Ace-High."

"Um... Straight Flush," Rodney puts down his cards.

"Damn. I thought you said you'd never played," Evan gave Rodney an accusing look, it's the fifth hand he's won.

"Beginners luck?" Rodney suggests, collecting his winnings.

"I hate beginners," Evan grumbled, but it was good natured and followed by a laugh.

"I bet your first girlfriend said the same thing," Steven said.

"Oh that wasn't beginner's luck, that was pure talent," Evan retorted.

"All right children, lets not get personal," John said. "New hand gentleman."

"Count me out guys," Eugene said. "I'd better call the missus."

"Wife whipped," Evan grinned.

"Laugh it up," Eugene said. "At least I found a woman who'd keep me."

"Yeah, keep you chained to the sink," Evan sniggered.

"Jealous, Evan?"

"Sure Eugene, I'm bleeding green," Evan said.

"Play nicely," John told them, laughing.

"I always play nicely," Evan grinned rakishly. "It's why the ladies love me."

*~*~*~*~*

John threw Aiden into the passenger seat of Steven's car, laughing at Evan trying to manhandle Eugene into the back seat.

"Try not to throw up on the upholstery," John told him.

"Sir, yes, sir," Aiden said.

"Night guys," Steven flashed his lights as he pulled down the drive.

"Looks like it's just use crazy kids," Evan grinned. "You want a hand to clean up?"

"Sure, Rodney isn't exactly a domestic God," John said.

"Doesn't exactly seem that type," Evan nodded agreeable.

"Rodney, what are you going?" John asked as they came back inside, closing the door behind him.

"Cleaning up," Rodney said.

"It's fine, I'll take care of it," John said.

"I do know how to use a brush and dustpan you know. Genius here," Rodney said.

"Yes, but you pay me to do it for you, genius," John reminded him.

"Fine, do it yourself then, I'm going to bed," Rodney said, shoving the brush into John's hands.

"He's an acquired taste," John shrugged, giving Evan a wry smile.

"Seems someone's acquired it," Evan said.

John gave him a quizzical look. "Don't know what you mean."

"Come on John, how long have we known each other?" Evan said. "I remember that Lieutenant in Basic Training."

John frowned. "I never..."

"No, but you wanted to," Evan said. "Look, my point is, I know you."

"Even if I was, even if I did... Rodney is straight," John said.

"But you do, right?" Evan said.

John shrugged. "Maybe; just a little."

Evan chuckled. "You don't do things by half do you?"

"Ain't that the truth. But I have no plans of doing anything about it. Ever," John said.

Evan shrugged, but John could almost hear the 'Yeah sure, I believe you' in that same tone of voice he'd used back when John first said he had no intention of ever getting married. Sometimes, John thought he'd really known Evan too damn long.

*~*~*~*~*

A few days later, the girls came to John with a suggestion. Rodney would find it incredibly corny. John sniggered quietly to himself as he told them it was brilliant.

"Quiet," John warned the girls who were giggling behind him.

"What's so amusing?" Rodney asked, dropping his briefcase by the back door.

"We have a surprise for you," Madison announced.

"Dare I ask?" Rodney gave John a look that said 'if this in any way embarrasses me, I'm holding you personally responsible.'

"After much due consideration," Madison said. "Many hours of discussion, during which we covered several aspects of your work and that of your competitors..."

"My what?" Rodney said.

"Stop talking!" Piper instructed.

John gave Rodney an amused smile. "Fine," Rodney huffed.

"We here present, have decided you are deserving of a most as... aus... auspicious award," Madison said, blushing as she held it out.

"It's... what is it?" Rodney looked at it carefully.

"It's the Miller-Sheppard award for excellence in scientific study," Piper said.

"Um... thank you," Rodney said.

The girls grinned broadly when he took it, setting it carefully in the middle of the dinning table.

"Alright girls, you can go watch TV for a while," John said, shooing them out towards the living room.

"It's a Barbie doll," Rodney said.

"It's a Barbie doll that's been spray painted gold and put on a very nice glazed clay base," John offered

"It's still a Barbie doll," Rodney said.

"Yes. But they meant well," John said.

"You encouraged this?" Rodney asked. "How did they even know about the dumb award?"

"Madison read about it on the internet," John said. "Blame yourself for that, you're the one who thought it was a good idea for a seven year old to have unrestricted internet access."

"So they made... this." Rodney gave the 'award' a distasteful look.

"They wanted you to feel... appreciated," John shrugged.

"I'd rather have had the five million dollars," Rodney said.

John snorted. "I think Maddie has about sixty dollars in her piggy bank."

"Hmm... I'm not expected to display this am I?" Rodney asked.

"In your study," John said.

"But..." Rodney frowned. "It was a nice thought I suppose... but can't I at least hide it behind something?"

John grinned. "Nope."
The Ex by kez
"Happy Birthday!" Piper bounced into John's room before he'd even made it out of bed.

"Morning," John said, chuckling sleepily.

"Breakfast is ready," Piper said. John gave her a look and Piper rolled her eyes, "Elizabeth helped."

"I'll be down in a minute," John said.

"Be quick," Piper bounced out again. John shook his head as he got up. He stopped at the mirror. Not bad for thirty-nine. He was still in pretty good shape.

"Vanity thy name is Sheppard," Rodney said.

"Huh. You don't knock?" John asked.

"Piper left the door open. You'd better hurry up or there might not be any breakfast left. Piper's been bouncing around for over an hour," Rodney said.

"It's only seven am," John said.

"Tell that to the terrible twosome," Rodney said.

"I'll be down in 10 minutes," John promised.

"8 ½ or I'm sending Elizabeth up to get you," Rodney said. John chuckled heading towards his bathroom.

*~*~*~*~*

"Rodney nearly had the last of the bacon," Piper said.

"Traitor," Rodney said.

Piper stuck her tongue out. "I kept you some, Daddy. And coffee too."

"Thanks Pi," John sat down.

"There are presents too, but you have to finish eating first," Piper told him.

"I thought we were going to keep them for after school," John said.

"It's a school night, by the time Rodney gets home we'll be in bed silly," Piper said.

"Oh, of course, how silly of me," John said.

"Eat up," Piper told him.

John felt like he was being watched. Probably because he was, at he ate every bite. He was sure at one point Rodney was going to steal the bacon right of his plate.

"That was great, thank you," John smiled at the girls. "And thank you Elizabeth for making sure they didn't burn down the house."

"Time for presents!" Piper said.

John nodded, chuckling. "Okay, who's first?"

Elizabeth gave him a shirt and a bottle of aftershave. "Oh do I have a hot date I don't know about?"

"Yes it's with the unemployment office if we don't hurry this up," Rodney grumbled.

Madison smiled sweetly as she gave him a book on Planes and a Johnny Cash CD. "The man in black," John grinned.

"He's wearing orange there," Madison said.

John chuckled. "So he is."

"Moving along," Rodney shoved a box under his nose.

"An electric razor," John smirked.

"Hmmm, maybe you'll actually shave occasionally now," Rodney said.

John laughed. "Well I just did my legs last night, but I'll be sure to try this out next time."

"You... I..." Rodney sputtered. "Why hasn't someone killed you yet?"

"Every time they get close I attack them with my facial hair," John said, smirking.

"Okay, next. This one's from me," Piper interrupted.

"Oh Pi, it's great," John gave her a hug. "You must have saved for months."

"Rodney gave me some money for doing some extra chores," Piper said.

"It's fantastic honey," John said.

"It's engraved," Piper told him. John turned it over, looking at the back. 'Worlds Best Dad.'

"Thanks honey," John put the watch on, tightening the strap.

"Okay, if this shindig is over, I have to go figure out the secrets to the universe. Happy Birthday," Rodney said.

"Thanks Rodney," John laughed.

*~*~*~*~*

John came back from his jog after everyone was gone, looking at his watch. "Yeah, not too bad," he said.

"What's not bad?" a female voice startled him.

John turned around. "Hello. Can I help you?"

"I was looking for Rodney McKay; I don't suppose you know where he's moved to?" the woman asked.

"He lives here, he's not in at the moment," John said.

"Oh. I thought... do you know when he'll be home?"

"He's at work. He'll be home around seven," John told her. "Can I get him to call you?"

"Oh no, it's fine, I'll call back," the woman smiled. John shrugged as she got into her sporty red Ferrari. He'd already forgotten about it by the time he jumped into the shower.

*~*~*~*~*

John was putting the last of the girls dinner dishes in the cupboard when Rodney came in. "Hey Rodney. Dinner won't be long."

"Hmm, oh good," Rodney said.

"You okay?" John asked.

"Yes. I thought I saw someone I knew when I was driving though town, but it can't have been. Never mind. What's for dinner, I'm starving," Rodney said.

"When are you not," John laughed. "Pork chops okay?"

"Fantastic. Although I feel like I should have taken you out for dinner. It is your birthday after all," Rodney said.

John snorted. "I'm your housekeeper, not your wife. Although flowers might have been nice."

"Are you kidding? Hello hay fever," Rodney said.

"Well a guy can dream," John said. "You want a beer?"

"Sure..." *knock, knock* "I'll get it."

John nodded, setting out plates on the table. He heard the front door slam. Humming to himself John dished out dinner; adding and extra chop to Rodney's plate.

"Everything okay?" he looked up when Rodney came back into the kitchen.

"John, this is Laura Cadman-McKay," Rodney introduced the woman from that morning.

"Oh. Hi again," John said.

"Sorry to interrupt your dinner," Laura said.

"It's fine. Would you like anything?" John asked.

"She's not staying," Rodney said.

"Gee thanks Rodney, I've missed you too," Laura said.

"You said you weren't staying," Rodney said.

"I'm not, but I was hoping we could talk," Laura said.

"Ah... why don't you have my plate, I'm going to make myself scarce," John said.

"Oh no, honestly I don't want to intrude," Laura said.

"It's fine. I think I'm going to treat myself to pizza," John smiled easily. Rodney glared at him, but didn't say anything.

*~*~*~*~*

"So, how've you been?" Laura asked Rodney when John was gone.

"Fine. You?" Rodney asked.

"Good. I just got back from Europe. I wasn't expecting to find divorce papers in my mailbox," Laura said.

"Well that's how it works. You separate and then you get a divorce," Rodney said. "It's a fair settlement."

"I'm not bothered about the settlement Rodney," Laura said.

"Well then why are we having this discussion?" Rodney asked.

"I thought... I suppose I wasn't expecting it to just end," Laura said.

"Come on, we might as well eat," Rodney said.

*~*~*~*~*

When John had come home the house was quiet. The kitchen had been tidied, the dishwasher had been run. Rodney must have been feeling productive. He checked on the girls and turned in, without even noticing the red Ferrari parked at the side of the house.

"Up and at 'em sleepy head," John knocked on Piper's door the next morning, giving Madison's the same treatment.

"What time is it?" Piper stuck her head out the door.

"Almost 0715, breakfast in twenty minutes," John told her.

"Rodney, wakey, wakey," John rattled on his door as Piper disappeared back into her room.

"What time is it?" And John really hadn't been expecting Laura to stick her head out Rodney's door wrapped in a sheet.

Rodney appeared behind her, looking flustered. "I'll... um..." Rodney pushed Laura behind him and closed the door in John's face.

*~*~*~*~*

"Can I have my eggs poached today?" Madison asked.

"Not this morning Maddie," John said.

"Um... morning..." Rodney said.

"Morning Uncle Rodney," Madison said.

"You want something to eat?" John asked.

"I'm not hungry..." Rodney said.

"Really, I thought you might have an appetite this morning," John said.

"And what's that supposed to mean," Rodney said.

"Parental whispering, never a good thing," Piper announced.

John scooped out scrambled eggs onto the two plates. "Eat up."

"Any more going?" Laura came in, wearing one of Rodney's shirts over a pair of his boxers.

"You know, I think I'm full. How about you Maddie, you full, let's go... get our bags," Piper tugged on Madison's arm.

"But I'm not done..." Madison protested.

"Then we'll take the toast with us," Piper grabbed a slice and pushed Madison towards the door.

"Way to clear a room," John commented.

"Um... John..." Laura said.

"None of my business," John said, before Laura could say anymore.

"No it's not," Rodney agreed.

John bit his lip. He wanted to say something, but it wasn't his business, so he wasn't sure why the hell it was bugging him so much. "Enjoy your breakfast," John said, setting another plate of eggs and toast down for Laura and coffee for Rodney.

"That was awkward," he heard Laura saying as he left.

John agreed with that. It was beyond awkward. And John didn't really have any business being awkward about it, after all Rodney and Laura were married. And he was just the housekeeper.

*~*~*~*~*

"No, awkward was our first date," Rodney said.

"Our first date was awful, not awkward," Laura laughed.

"Oh God, don't remind me," Rodney said, shaking his head.

"The second one was better," Laura smiled.

"It was," Rodney said, lifting her hand and kissing it.

"It wasn't all bad, me and you," Laura said.

"Except for that last month or two," Rodney said.

"I don't know, there were a few days there..." Laura laughed.

"I had to buy a new bed," Rodney said.

"I've missed you Rodney," Laura said.

"It was your decision to leave," Rodney reminded her.

"I know. But I came back... that's got to count for something," Laura said.

"For how long?" Rodney asked.

"Permanently, I've asked for a transfer to the Academy, they're looking for combat instructors," Laura said.

"I..." Rodney paused. They'd been apart a long time. He'd gotten use to not having Laura in his life. He'd gotten use to... well other things but Madison really needed a mother, not a housekeeper and a personal assistant. "I've never stopped loving you."

*~*~*~*~*

John was sweeping the back path, when Laura came out side. "John, may I talk to you?"

"Sure," John shrugged.

"Um... Rodney and I have been talking. We've decided to give our marriage another chance," Laura said.

"Congratulations," John said.

"It sorta means... I'll be moving back in here," Laura said.

John nodded. "What are you getting at?"

"We won't really need a housekeeper," Laura said.

"I see," John said.

"I'm sorry..." Laura said.

"It's fine," John shrugged. It wasn't fine. This was their home... and now he was going to have to look for not only a new job, but a new place for him and Piper to live. "Excuse me, I have to finish this."

Laura nodded. "Of course. If there is anything I can do..." John didn't answer.

*~*~*~*~*

"John, can you have a look at my car, it stalled on my three times on the way home," Rodney asked as soon as he came in.

"I'll look at it after dinner," John said.

"Thanks. Oh and I got a call today, that wood is being delivered tomorrow for the new bookcase," Rodney said.

"I'm not a workhorse you know," John said.

"Okay... look I know this morning was a touch uncomfortable and we'll all have to get use to having Laura around but..."

"I won't have to get use to it," John said.

"What do you mean?" Rodney asked.

"Didn't Laura tell you? My services are no longer required," John said.

"I... well that's silly. I'm sure she didn't mean... I'll talk to her and..."

"No Rodney. Look, she's right. You guys can't make a proper go of things with the housekeeper and his daughter living two doors down from your bedroom," John said.

Rodney frowned. "Of course we can, we'll just need to..."

"No Rodney. It's for the best. Not many people get a second chance at their marriages and it's happening for you and Laura. You don't need some aging pilot hanging around. And if you don't fire me, I'll quit," John told him.

"I... is there anything I can do..." Rodney asked.

"Well, two weeks severance pay would be nice," John said.

"Consider it done... anything else?" Rodney asked.

"Three...?" John smiled.

"Don't push it mister... this place isn't going to be the same without you and Piper," Rodney said.

"We'll keep in touch," John promised. Somehow he knew, Rodney didn't believe that anymore than he did.

*~*~*~*~*

John started looking for a job the next day. Piper and Madison were a bit put out... a lot put out... but they hid it by spending the next few days sniping at each other. By the end of the week you'd almost be convinced they hadn't come to love each other like siblings.

Rodney came flying in just after lunch on the Friday, which surprised John for two reasons. Firstly, that he'd left work early and secondly that he was grinning like he'd just won an award for genius of the millennium.

"I found you a job," Rodney announced.

"Huh..."

"God you two will get along so well..." Rodney said.

"Me two who?" John asked.

"Retired General Jack O'Neill," Rodney announced with a grin.

"I'm really not looking to work for any military men," John said.

"Pfft. He's barely military. Okay, he was career military, but he disobeyed so many orders it's a wonder he didn't land himself in Leavenworth. But he's a good guy. Not overly intelligent... okay not at all intelligent really, but he can tie his own shoelaces which is a lot more than some of the grunts I've met. Anyway, he's retired, owns a big house just outside Colorado Springs. Spends a lot of his time in Minnesota actually, has some sort of cabin there, so you'll probably be left to your own devices and..."

"Rodney, take a breath. I believe you okay, he's perfect for me. But am I perfect for him?" John asked.

"Of course you are. You're like brothers, seriously, you could come from the same gene pool. Although his hair at least seems to conform to gravity," Rodney said.

John chuckled, it was an old insult, one Rodney had thrown at him often, along with comments on his facial hair.

"I guess it wouldn't hurt to meet him," John said.

"Good. Great. Because you are. Meeting him I mean, in about... forty-five minutes," Rodney said.

"Way to give me time to prepare!" John said.

"You're fine, you're presentable. Here's he's address, chop, chop," Rodney shoved a piece of paper into his hand.

"So we're clear... if this doesn't work out, you're going to owe me another weeks severance pay!" John said, already half out the door.

Rodney snorted. "I'm a genius, of course it will work!"

*~*~*~*~*

John approached the house. It was a nice place. About as big as Rodney's, nice yard, well kept. The only difference was instead of a sporty car, there was a very impressive looking jeep sitting in the drive.

Knocking on the front door, didn't get any response, so John took a walk around the back.

"Excuse me," John said.

A silver head popped up. "Ouch!"

"Sorry..." John apologised, straightening his posture.

"Nah, my own fault. You must be John Sheppard. Jack O'Neill," Jack extended his hand.

"General," John greeted.

"Call me Jack. Come on inside, you want a beer?" Jack led the way inside.

"I'm driving," John shrugged.

"I've got some soda," Jack offered instead.

"Um... General... Jack. You don't really seem like you need a housekeeper," John said.

Jack chuckled. "I can get my own beer, that means I don't need a butler, but I'm away a lot and the house gets left to fend for itself. Besides, just because I *can* clean up after myself, doesn't mean I want to. I'm retired; I reckon I've earned a break. Besides, I thought you needed a job, shouldn't you be telling me just how much I need you?"

"I do," John shrugged.

"Ya know, as a rule I don't put much stock in what McKay says about people. His people skills suck even more than my physics skills... but I like you Sheppard. If you want it, the jobs yours," Jack said.

"Did Rodney... Doctor McKay, mention I had a daughter?" John asked.

"He did. Piper right? What age is she?" Jack asked.

"Thirteen," John said.

"Terrible age," Jack said.

John laughed. "No kidding. I can't decide if it's thirteen going on three, or thirty."

"As long as she doesn't blow anything up, I have no problem with your daughter being around," Jack said.

"In that case, I'd be happy to take the job," John said.

"Good. Something else I can taunt McKay about," Jack grinned.

"I thought you were retired, Sir," John said.

"I am. But I still do some consulting work," Jack shrugged. One of these days, John was going to start getting really curious about what the hell went on in that mountain.

*~*~*~*~*

Working for Jack O'Neill was like getting paid for being in heaven. The house wasn't hard to keep clean; there was a pool and a massive garden for Piper. Jack had put a soccer net up and a basketball hoop, as soon as he'd discovered Piper was a sports fan. John wasn't sure, but he suspected Piper actually liked Jack, more than she liked him. Huh.

"Dad!" Piper came flying in.

"Wow Tiger, where's the fire?" John asked.

"I made it!" Piper said.

"Made what?" John asked.

"I made the basketball team," Piper said.

"I thought you weren't going to try out," John said.

"I wasn't... there have only been three girls on the team ever... but Jack showed me this totally cool jump and I got in!" Piper was grinning form ear to ear. John snorted. He knew she liked Jack more than him.

"That's great sweetheart, so my little girls a basketball star huh. Just remember you're old man when you're all rich and famous," John said.

"I'm gonna go practice," Piper said.

"After you've done your homework," John said.

"But Daaaad..."

"Homework. You want a snack while you're doing it?" John asked.

"Sure," Piper sat down, pouting.

John shook his head, amused. "I'll be out back," John told her, setting down a glass of milk and an apple.

*~*~*~*~*

"I'm home," Rodney called out.

"Hey Honey," Laura wrapped her arms around him. "Dinner is almost ready."

"Hmm, thought I could smell something good," Rodney said.

"No, that's me," Laura grinned.

Rodney sniffed the air dramatically. "No, pretty sure it's dinner."

Laura laughed and slapped him playfully. "Don't make me hurt you."

"Maybe I like it when you do," Rodney whispered, kissing her neck.

"Ewww..." Madison appeared behind Laura. "Could you too be anymore gross?"

"Just you wait Maddie, one day you're going to meet a nice boy," Laura said.

"And I'll be locking her in her bedroom when that day comes," Rodney said.

Madison rolled her eyes. "Can I call Piper?"

"After Dinner, have you done your homework?" Rodney asked.

"Laura said I could do it after dinner," Madison said.

"Oh. Well, I suppose... yes then you'd better call Piper now. Fifteen minutes." Rodney reminded her.

"Yes Uncle Rodney," Madison said.

"Was I not supposed to let her do her homework after dinner?" Laura asked.

"Normally she does it before dinner, her tv programs are on after dinner and she won't concentrate on her homework if she's watching them. But it's not a big deal," Rodney said.

"I'll make sure she does it before dinner from now on," Laura promised. "Dinner will be ready in a few more minutes, why don't you go wash up."

"I will. Thanks," Rodney gave her a kiss.

*~*~*~*~*

"Rodney, I thought you weren't going to work after dinner," Laura said.

"Well I wasn't, but someone was late home and I had to cook dinner. I have to get this finished," Rodney said.

Laura sighed. "I said I was sorry about that, I spent all day trying to teach idiots who couldn't beat up Madison's bear. I forgot the training meeting was moved forward to this week. I'll cook tomorrow night."

"I'm sorry, it's been a long day," Rodney said.

"Yes, but now it's over and this is our time. Can't you put the work away?" Laura asked.

"You're right. It'll keep 'til tomorrow, what would you like to do?" Rodney asked.

"Oh I have a thought or two," Laura suggested coyly.

"Hmm, don't you want to... talk?" Rodney said.

"Talk. Sure, what would you like to talk about?" Laura asked.

"Well, how was your day?" Rodney asked.

"Idiots who couldn't beat up a stuffed animal," Laura said.

"Oh. Right. So much for talking," Rodney said and pulled Laura towards him.

Rodney had really missed this. Of all the things he missed about being married, this was high up the list.

*ring, ring*

"That's probably for you," Laura said.

"I'll put the machine on," Rodney hit the button. The ridiculous message Laura had recorded played, before the caller spoke.

"Hello, Doctor McKay, this is Doctor Lee. I guess you're not in, I was hoping to hear if you'd gone over my proposal on the Avalon study. I am quiet pleased with it..."

"Because you're an idiot," Rodney snorted.

"I think it has a excellent chance of success..."

Rodney grunted. "Yes we can successfully sell it to countries were the scientists are even dumber than you."

"Well, if you can get back to me this evening, I'd really appreciate it."

"He's an idiot," Rodney said.

"So I hear," Laura said.

"It's an important project," Rodney said.

"They are all important projects," Laura said.

"Well, thanks for the support," Rodney grumbled.

*ring, ring*

"What's the bet it's for you again," Laura said. "I'm going for a walk."

"Hey Guys, together again huh? Real cute. Anyway, I guess you've gone out. Or maybe you're in and just too busy to come to the phone." Rodney could almost hear the smirk as he went to pick up the phone. "I just called to see how you were... bye."

Rodney frowned. John had hung up before he'd even gotten as far as the phone. Maybe he could call him back... but what would he say?

*~*~*~*~*

"Welcome back General," John said.

"Would ya please call me Jack already," Jack said.

John laughed. "Sir, yes, Sir. Jack."

"Remind me why I hired you?" Jack asked.

"Charm and good looks Sir," John suggested.

"Oh that's right, you came free with a beautiful young woman," Jack grinned.

"Jack! You're back!" Piper came flying out of the house.

"Yep, the fish got bored of me. How's everything here been?" Jack asked.

"Nothing to report, other than that I have the most brilliant daughter ever," John said.

"Oh really..." Jack asked.

"I made the team!" Piper grinned bouncing.

"Way to go Piper. This won't be wasted then," Jack turned back to his jeep. When he turned around, he threw something at Piper.

"A new basketball, cool. Thanks Jack, can I go..."

"Just don't go any further than the court, dinner will be ready in half an hour," John told her.

"Kids," Jack smiled.

"You didn't have to get her anything," John said.

"I wanted too. Unless you'd prefer I didn't," Jack said.

"No, that's not it. I just don't want her getting too spoiled," John said.

"Oh believe me, I know that feeling," Jack gave an amused little smile. He hadn't said much, but John had figured out in the first half hour that Jack was divorced and the pictures of a little boy that stopped at age ten, was a dead give away why.

"I'll get your bag," John offered.

"I'm retired, not dead. I can get my own bag. How about you, how've you been settling in?" Jack asked.

"Fine Sir, Jack. It's different, I haven't got any neurotic scientists breathing down my neck," John chuckled.

"Hmm, he's an acquired taste. You miss him huh?" Jack said.

"I... sometimes. Like you say, he's an acquired taste, but I guess I got use to him," John shrugged.

"Maybe you should call over, say hi," Jack suggested.

"No, they've got their own things to be getting on with. And I have a basement that is in complete disarray. How do you find anything down there?" John asked.

"I don't," Jack said. "Now stop changing the subject."

John sighed. "Sir, Jack... my job is here now."

"And that means you can't be friends with them?" Jack asked.

"No," John frowned. "No I guess you're right."

"Of course I am, I'm a General. Retired," Jack said.

John laughed. "Yes Sir."

*~*~*~*~*

John knocked on the door, waiting. It was weird to be waiting at the door of a house he use to live in.

"John, Piper! What a nice surprise. Maddie, there's someone here to see you!" Elizabeth answered the door.

"Who is it? Piper!" Madison came running down the stairs.

"Hi Maddie," Piper looked uncertain. "Missed me?"

"Not really..." Madison said, equally careful.

"Oh. Well, me either," Piper said.

"Wanna come see my new computer games?" Madison asked.

"Yeah sure!" Piper grinned, following Madison up the stairs.

"She's been talking about her all week," Elizabeth laughed.

"Has she mentioned me?" John asked.

"Elizabeth, who is it? John!" Rodney came out of the kitchen, grinning when he saw John. "Hi."

"How you doing?" John asked.

"Good. Great. Really great," Rodney said.

"So you and Laura are doing okay then?" John asked.

"Yes, it's been wonderful," Rodney said.

"Don't, please, if I hear anymore about how wonderful it is, I'm going to throw myself under a bus," Elizabeth rolled her eyes.

"You know, I can fire you," Rodney said.

"But you won't," Elizabeth smiled.

"How's work?" John asked instead.

"Oh don't ask. Too many idiots," Rodney said.

"You could always tar and feather them," John suggested.

Rodney snorted. "That's not a bad idea. Laura just thinks I'm over reacting."

"Well it's hard work being a genius," John said.

"I think she would rather I wasn't sometimes. That I was just a regular guy, with a regular job," Rodney shrugged.

"Naw, I'm sure that's not true, Laura loves you for who you are," John said.

"Oh I know she loves me. Just not my job," Rodney shrugged.

"The joys of being married," John said. He could relate.

*~*~*~*~*

Rodney and Laura toasted over dinner. "That was great," Rodney said.

Laura smiled "Thanks."

"The potatoes were really good," Rodney said.

"Pity the casserole blew up," Laura chuckled.

"Yeah..." Rodney agreed with a soft chuckle of his own.

"Rodney... I got a visit today from Colonel Lorne," Laura said.

"Oh. How is he?" Rodney asked.

"He's fine. He wanted to talk to me about an op they are planning... in South East Asia," Laura said.

"And he wants you," Rodney surmised.

"He asked me to go... I want to Rodney. I thought I could do this staying put thing, but if I stay, it's going to be for you and with you always working... if I'm not going to be with you, I'd rather be, where I'd rather be," Laura said.

"I agree," Rodney said.

"I'll miss you and I'm sorry, but I... what?" Laura asked.

"I agree. I love you Laura, I always will, but this isn't going to work. We both have our own lives and our paths just don't meet anymore. You should go," Rodney said.

"I... I really am going to miss you," Laura said.

"Me too," Rodney smiled softly, pulling Laura into a hug, kissing her gently. He really was.

*~*~*~*~*

Rodney was sitting alone on the couch, his feet propped on the coffee table, laptop on his knee. He really thought twice about answering the door.

"Hey. Thought I'd drop by, see how you were doing," John stood casually leaning against the door frame.

"Me? Fine. Great," Rodney said.

"So, Laura's gone then..." John said, stepping inside.

Rodney frowned. "How did you know?"

"She called to say goodbye. She also said I should take care of you," John said.

"And what did you say?" Rodney asked.

John picked up a t-shirt hanging over the back of the sofa. "I said you could take care of yourself."

Rodney nodded. "Oh. That's right, thank you John."

John chuckled. "Well obviously we were both wrong, look at this place... it's a tip. I got here just in time."

"You mean you're back?" Rodney asked.

John smiled. "Yeah, of course."

"Wait a minute, who gave you your job back?" Rodney asked.

"Laura," John said.

"What else did she say?" Rodney asked.

John grinned. "Said I got a rise... A big one."
Requiem by kez
"Elizabeth," Rodney walked into the living room, really not expecting to see if covered in files. "How's it coming?"

"You are the worst organised man in the history of the known universe. This is going to take all night," Elizabeth this said.

"I said I could hire someone," Rodney told her.

"And I said there is no point paying someone else for what I already can do. Although you better believe I'm putting in for overtime," Elizabeth said.

"Double pay," Rodney assured, because Elizabeth was scary when she was cranky and dealing with his somewhat disorganised finances always made her cranky.

The door crashed open, revealing a frazzled looking housekeeper. "I know I'm late. But I got all the errands done. Even managed to pick up some of those little donuts you like."

"That's great where is..."

"Firewood, here, I have firewood," John said.

"Again, great but what about the..."

"Dinner, I have dinner. Pizza," John said.

"Children!" Rodney finally managed to finish his sentence.

"The kids are going to love this it's... I forgot the kids! I'll be right back!" John was already half way out the door before Rodney even had time to speak.

"Elizabeth, do you think John's being weird?" Rodney asked.

"It's easy to forget the kids, they are small," Elizabeth said.

"Har. Har. It's not just today. He's been preoccupied all this week, out almost every night. I had to organise Zelenka's stag night, around John's schedule," Rodney said.

"These are the times that try men's souls," Elizabeth said.

"Kids, here, delivered safely," John said.

"He's forgetful but he's fast," Elizabeth observed.

"We got a ride home with Mrs. Hammond. I told her my dad doesn't care anymore," Piper said.

"Hey no fair, I got pizza. Pizza with double pepperoni and olives," John said.

"He cares, he cares!" Piper grabbed the Pizza. "There are slices missing."

"Oh yeah, I already ate. I have to go out," John said.

"Again? You've been out every night this week," Rodney said.

"I know, sorry, I'll stay in tomorrow night, promise. I'll make something special for dinner. Roast Beef ala Sheppard," John said.

"Not okay, I have somewhere to be tonight," Rodney said.

"But Rodney..."

"It's okay, I'll cover kid duty for you. I'm going to be working on these all night anyway," Elizabeth said.

"You're the best, thanks Elizabeth. I'll see you later Sweetheart," John gives Piper a kiss and almost turns to give Rodney one, before he thinks better of it. "Nope, don't kiss you. Bye!"

*~*~*~*~*

"Hey Elizabeth, how's it going?" John asked.

"I figure, if I don't sleep, I might have it done by Christmas... year three thousand," Elizabeth said. "Actually I got distracted by the TV. There is a killer on the loose going after Gardeners."

"Chilling," John said taking off his jacket.

"And it's you..." Elizabeth's eyes narrowed.

"What this?" John asked.

"Fresh gardener blood," Elizabeth said.

"You got me. I caught him messing around in my begonias," John chuckled.

"That's not blood. It's tomato sauce... and you smell like pepperoni!" Elizabeth said.

"I'm guilty of eating pizza without table manners. I gotta get the dishwasher unloaded before Rodney gets back," John said.

Elizabeth pulled a piece of paper from John's back pocket as he walked past. "Pizza Playland. You're not eating the pizza, you're making it. You're moonlighting."

"Hey look Dick Tracy, you got me, all right. I just needed some extra money, that’s all," John said.

"Why?" Elizabeth asked.

"Damn, Rodney is home, stall him okay, I have to get the dishwasher emptied," John said.

"Well that was the worse night ever," Rodney announced.

"I don't know, it could have been worse. You could have been serving pizza to snotty nosed kids," Elizabeth said.

"I... okay. What's up with you?" Rodney asked.

"John has been moonlighting. Working an extra job because you don't pay him enough," Elizabeth said.

"That's ludicrous. He just got a raise," Rodney said. "He's working another job? Why?"

"I don't know, but he said he needed the money," Elizabeth said. "You don't think he's in trouble do you?"

"I don't know, but I'm going to find out," Rodney said decisively.

*~*~*~*~*

John pulled plates out of the dishwasher, the phone resting between his shoulder and his ear. "I know I'm late, but I have the money, Saturday at the latest I promise. I got to go."

"John..." Rodney said, entering the room.

"Ah, I'm just getting sorted for breakfast," John said. "You know, keep one step ahead of the game."

"Elizabeth told me what you're doing," Rodney said.

"Come on Rodney, do I look like the kind of guy who runs around killing Gardeners," John joked.

"No. But you look like the kind off guy working two jobs," Rodney said.

"Oh. Right. Look I know I've been out of the house a lot lately, but only at night and I'm still getting everything done around here, my work hasn't slipped," John defended.

"You put the red towels in with my white boxers," Rodney said.

"Well... yes. But it's cool for guys to wear pink now," John said.

"John, are you in some kind of trouble?" Rodney asked.

"No! Geez, no!" John said.

Rodney frowned. "Because if you needed any help... legal help or..."

"No, Rodney thanks, but really I don't," John said.

"Is it gambling debts? Are they after you?" Rodney asked.

"Who is they?" John asked.

"Them. You know... they who threaten to um... do whatever it is they threaten to do. 'You get a lot more with a nice word and a gun then with a nice word'." Rodney mimicked.

"Okay, no more gangster movies for you. I'm fine Rodney really, it's personal," John said.

Rodney nodded doubtfully. "Okay."

*~*~*~*~*

"What are you doing?" Rodney asked that Saturday, dragging himself out of his office around lunch time.

"Paying bills. Is it wrong that I'm excited by that?" John asked, licking the last envelop.

"A little. Is lunch ready?" Rodney asked.

"It's only 1200hrs Rodney. It's Saturday the girls are at the pool, lunch will be at 1300 after I go pick them up," John said.

"But I'm hungry now," Rodney frowned.

"Go eat an apple. I'm going to get the girls as soon as I've posted these," John said.

"I'm the boss you know, I could order you to make me lunch," Rodney said.

"Of course you could Rodney, if you wanted lemon juice in your coffee," John smirked.

"That's just... that's... not funny," Rodney huffed, but John was laughing on his way out the door. "John! You forgot one."

"Naw, I'm gonna deliver that one by hand, it's due today," John said.

"Oh. Okay," Rodney huffed a little more before he went to rummage in the kitchen, reminding himself he had no business being curious about John's comings and goings.

"Hello Rodney," Elizabeth was coming in the back door as Rodney entered the kitchen.

"Hi..." Rodney said distractedly heading for the fridge.

"Did you talk to John last night?" Elizabeth asked.

"Hmm, yes, he said it was personal," Rodney pulled a tub of yoghurt out.

"What use are you," Elizabeth rolled her eyes.

"It's not my business. Besides, he's going to take care of it today, he's been paying bills and there is one left he's going to hand deliver," Rodney said.

"Oh..." Elizabeth moved through to the living room, eyeing the envelop with interest.

"It's none of our business," Rodney said. "Why are women so nosey?"

"Because men are so tight lipped," Elizabeth suggested. "It's addressed to G.F. Oberoth."

"G.F Oberoth, I don't know the name. I wonder who it could be," Rodney asked, his own curiosity further peaked.

*~*~*~*~*

"Rodney..." Elizabeth came in later that same evening, looking around to be sure they were alone. "You know I had that meeting today in Denver?"

"Yes, you've mentioned it like ten times this week. I told you I'd cover your gas and lunch," Rodney said.

"Not my point. When I was in Denver, I saw John. With a young woman. I didn't mean to spy, but I couldn't help notice. He gave her that envelop," Elizabeth said.

"What's your point?" Rodney asked.

"Wake up knuckle head. He's keeping a woman!" Elizabeth said.

"Knuckle head?"

"That would be the part you pick up on," Elizabeth signed.

"Hang on! He’s keeping a woman! I am rearranging my life for him so he can fool around with some... Floozy!" Rodney said.

"Hey Elizabeth, you staying for dinner? I've outdone myself," John smiled easily.

"That’s terrific! I have rearranged Zelenka's stag night to accommodate you! I have gone to work in pink underwear, and why?" Rodney asked, glaring.

"Um... I give up..." John offered taking a step back.

"So you could sneak down your back alleys to some torrid tryst with a Neapolitan nymphet!" Rodney said.

"Sounds great, where do I sigh up," John said.

"You, you... Do you deny you were in Denver today?" Rodney asked.

"What if I was?" John asked.

"With a check for a certain Miss G.F. Oberoth!" Rodney said.

"Hey, what are you two tailing me? When did you turn into Cagney & Lacey?" John asked.

"Your little peccadillo is beginning to affect my household. I think I deserve an explanation," Rodney said.

"OK, you want an explanation? Mister Oberoth is my mother’s landlord. I’ve been paying the rent on her apartment," John said, annoyed.

"And the woman?" Elizabeth asked.

"Mister Oberoth's daughter," John said. "He raised the rent and since Piper just about broke me at Christmas, I didn't have the savings I normally have."

"Oh. I'm... that's very commendable." Rodney said, embarrassed.

"Thanks," John said snarkily.

"You're um... welcome," Rodney said, flushing as he looked at the floor.

"...dinner will be served in five minutes," John told them.

Rodney nodded. "Okay."

"Hey Rodney?" John said.

"Yes?" Rodney asked.

"...you thought..."

"Well, I just sort of..." Rodney admitted.

"Try to get your mind out of the gutter, all right Rodney?" John said.

Rodney turned and glared at Elizabeth when John had gone back into the kitchen. "This is all your fault!"

"Lets not assign blame. Hey, why don't we invite John's mom up for the weekend," Elizabeth suggested, hoping to distract Rodney.

"Hmm... that's not actually a bad idea," Rodney admitted. "Even if it is yours."

"Look Uncle Rodney!" Madison came bouncing down the stairs, Piper a step behind her.

"Um... it's very nice," Rodney offered. The swirls of paint meant nothing to him.

"See, I told you he wouldn't know what it was," Piper said.

"Hmm. Piper, I was wondering, do you think your grandmother might like to come spend a few days here?" Rodney asked.

"I'm sure she would, but you're a little late..." Piper said.

"I don't mean this weekend of course, she probably already has plans," Rodney said.

"Yeah, um Rodney, my grandma has been dead for over a year," Piper said.

"Your dad's mother?" Rodney asked.

"Yep," Piper confirmed.

"Oh..." Rodney said, as Piper shrugged and followed Madison towards the smells coming from the kitchen and dinner.

*~*~*~*~*

"Um... John..." Rodney broached carefully as he helped John clear up the dinner plates. "I sort of... asked Piper if she thought your mother might like to come for a visit."

"What did she say?" John asked.

"She thought she might not be able to make it," Rodney said.

"Well no, she's dead," John shrugged.

"That was her reason too..." Rodney said. "John, this might be none of my business, but why are you still paying rent for someone who isn't um... isn't really in a position to appreciate it anymore."

"It's no big mystery Rodney, the apartment... it's hard to find places to rent in the city. I'm just holding on to it, you know, in case things don't work out here," John said.

"Oh. And are things working out here?" Rodney asked.

"Of course they are. Things are great here. Don't you think so?" John asked.

"Oh no complaints here," Rodney said quickly. "So that um... being the case... don't you think it's time to let the apartment go?"

"Yeah, but it's... more complicated than that. I mean, I got lucky before, with General O'Neill, but if you ever get remarried," John shrugged.

"Oh. Right. Look John, that was... I mean, I really don't see myself getting remarried again and even if I ever did, I wouldn't throw you and Piper out on the street, I'd make sure you had somewhere good to go first," Rodney assured.

"I guess you're right. I'll tell Mister Oberoth I'm letting the place go as soon as I get it cleared out," John said.

Rodney nods. "I know... I know it's hard to clear out a place when someone..."

"Dies," John offers.

"Yes. When Jeannie..."

"Died," John offers again.

"Right... clearing out her place was... was really hard. If you want help or..."

John shook his head. "No, I can do it on my own."

"Okay. Do you want tomorrow off?" Rodney asked.

John nodded hesitantly. "Thanks Rodney."

Rodney nodded in return. "Sure. No problem. Anything I can do to help..."

*~*~*~*~*

John sat in the chair in front of the fire. The apartment smelled musty, unlived in, but he swore he could still smell the perfume his mother wore. He'd never known what it was called, but it was distinctively her, bound up the in fabric of the chair he was sitting in.

The door knocking startled him. "John..."

"Rodney... hold on," John said, throwing a few things into one of the boxes and tossing some paper around before he opened the door.

"How's it going?" Rodney asked, looking around John into the apartment.

"Oh you know, packing up a storm..." John said. "What are you doing here?"

"I know you said you didn't but, I thought... maybe you might like some help after all," Rodney said.

"Yeah. Okay, come on in," John offered.

Rodney nodded, stepping in behind John. "So this is where your mother..."

"Lived," John finished for him.

"Yes. You know, I thought... I'm not very good at this, but I thought maybe having someone around who didn't have an emotional attachment to things might make it easier," Rodney said.

John shrugged. "Your right, you aren't very good at this."

"No. I'm really not," Rodney agreed.

"It's the thought that counts," John smiled softly at him.

"Well... things look like they're going kind of slowly..." Rodney said.

"My mom had a lot of stuff," John shrugged. He picked up a model aeroplane of the mantle. "This is a Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star. It was the first operation fighter jet used by the USAF. Mom helped me build this when I was seven. We spent days making sure we got it perfect... it was a surprise for my Dad."

"Your parents must have been proud when you joined up," Rodney said.

"Dad was, in his own way, but I never quite made the grade. Mom though... my first shore leave, she had everyone on the block around to see me in my uniform," John smiled at the memory.

"You must miss her," Rodney said softly. His eyes filled with understanding.

"Yeah," John agreed, choking. "I miss her a lot."

"This place looks like it's ready for a party," Rodney said. "Planning something?"

John snorted. "No. My mom... she did this every year for my birthday. She died a couple of days before my birthday last year."

"I'm sorry," Rodney said.

John shurgged. "It was sudden you know, no warning. My presents still there on the mantle..."

Rodney picked up the small wrapped box. "It's been over a year, don't you think she'd want you to open it?"

"Yeah..." John took it. "She always use to say I was late for everything, I guess this time she was right."

John opened it carefully, opening the box. Tears sprung to his eyes, he couldn't blink them back. "I get it mom."

"John?" Rodney asked.

"It's my granddad's pocket watch," John said, showing him.

"It's a lovely watch," Rodney said, taking it carefully and opening it. "It's inscribed."

"What's it say?" John asked.

"To my own shooting star," Rodney said.

"I'm not sure I can do this Rodney," John said tightly, barely holding back the tears.

"You've locked her memory up in this apartment for over a year John, don't you think it's time you bring her home, to be with her family," Rodney put his hand on John's shoulder reassuringly.

John nodded and blinked the tears away. "You're right."

*~*~*~*~*

"That's just about everything," Rodney suggests, dropping another box by the door.

"Yeah," John nods, his busily hoking through another box.

"What's that?" Rodney asked.

"My mom's record collection. She loved music. She wanted to be a singer, before she married Dad," John said.

"That's a pretty impressive collection," Rodney said.

"Yeah, she's got everything in here. She loved the Ratpack, especially Sinatra," John chuckled.

"What are going to do with them?" Rodney asked.

"I don't know, give them to a retirement home or something I guess. They're pretty corny," John shrugged.

"Or we could take them home..." Rodney suggested.

"The kids would hate us," John said.

"Pretty sure that's how it's supposed to be, Rodney said chuckling.

"Yeah. Well I guess this is it. The Salvation Army will come buy to take care of the rest of this stuff on Monday," John said.

"Okay," Rodney pulls on his jacket.

"You know, my mom lived here for fifteen years... and now..." John shrugged.

"I'll take this case down to your van," Rodney offered. "Wait for you down there..."

John gave him a greatful look, looking around the apartment. It seemed like there should be something more. John shook himself and lifted a couple of boxes. No point wishing for what he couldn't change.

*~*~*~*~*

"What is that?" Piper asked sounding disgusted as she came down stairs, Madison on her heels.

"It's a record," John said, his feet resting on the table, newspaper in his lap.

"It's a record?" Piper asked. "Do they even make thoes anymore?"

"Hush, this bit is my favourite," Rodney said, sitting on the otherside from John, feet similarly propped on the table, laptop on his knees.

"Oh God, this is so embarrasing," Piper whined. "I am never inviting friends over, ever again!"

John chuckled and winked at Rodney as Piper and Madison disappeared up the stairs as quickly as they had ascended. Sometimes, being a parent was fun.
Here Comes the Bride by kez
"...happy birthday to you," the group finished singing as Piper blew out the candles on her cake.

"You make a wish sweetheart?" John asked.

"I'm too old for wishes," Piper said.

"She wished that Andrew Parker would ask her out," Madison said.

"Maddie!" Piper dug the younger girl in the arm. "No I didn't!"

"Oww!" Madison protested loudly and smacked Piper back.

"Ladies, play nice," John said, chuckling. "And who is Andrew Parker?"

"No one!" Piper said hastily.

"He's a boy who gets our bus," Madison said.

"Maddie!" Piper glared. Madison stuck her tongue out.

"Okay, okay," John laughed. "Who wants cake?"

*~*~*~*~*

"So Piper's got a crush," Rodney said, when they sat alone later that night.

John shrugged. "Had to happen sooner or later. I'm pretty sure it's not her first anyway."

"I think I'd die if Madison ever started making goo-goo eyes over a boy," Rodney said.

"It won't be long until she does," John said, chuckling.

"I wonder if I can chain her to her bed..." Rodney said.

"I thought you were going to let her date," John said.

"I am. When she's fifty," Rodney said.

"On the plus side, I'm black ops trained and with your contacts, I bet they'd never find the bodies," John offered.

"That's a point. But are we really supposed to use those tactics on children?" Rodney asked.

"Hmmm..." John pondered. "If they get within ten feet of our little girls, I think we're allowed."

Rodney laughed. "A plan I can get behind."

*ring, ring*

"I'll get it," Rodney said, dragging himself of the chair.

"Hello? Oh Laura, Hi," John gave Rodney a curious look, but Rodney wasn't paying him any mind.

"Of course, yes, that's fine. See you then," Rodney said, hanging up.

"Everything okay?" John asked, sitting up.

"Yeah. That was Laura, she's in town, she wants to come over," Rodney said.

"Well, you two did say you'd keep in touch, remain friends..." John said.

"Yeah. She said she had something important to tell me," Rodney said.

"Ah," John nodded. Anytime Jen had said they had something important to talk about, he always got freaked out too.

"She's coming over tomorrow evening," Rodney said.

"I'll take the girls to the movies, give you guys chance to catch up," John offered.

"Oh you don't have to do that," Rodney said.

"It's fine," John smiled easily. "We'll go see a movie, get some pizza, it'll be fun."

"Okay. Thanks," Rodney said, but John could see he was still distracted, wondering what it was his ex had to discuss with him. They'd parted pretty amicably in the end. He hoped nothing was going to happen to rock the boat.

*~*~*~*~*

Rodney looked at the door vaguely startled when he heard the knock. John and the girls hadn't long left. He got up and moved to answer the door.

"Hello Rodney," Laura smiled at him when he opened it.

"Laura, you look great," Rodney said and it was true.

"Can I come in..." Laura said.

"Yeah, of course, sorry. Come in," Rodney moved to let her enter. "How are you?"

"I'm good, how about you?" Laura asked.

"Good. Yeah, good," Rodney said.

"And Madison, how is she doing?" Laura asked.

"She's good. Being brilliant as expected," Rodney said, with not a little pride.

Laura laughed. "That's good."

Things were suddenly quiet and uncomfortable. Rodney didn't know what to say. If John or Elizabeth were there, they'd insist on manners, like offering tea or coffee.

"Would you like a drink?" Rodney asked.

"Maybe a cup of coffee," Laura said. "Um... no wait."

Rodney paused. "What?"

"I came to talk to you about something," Laura said, sitting down on the couch. Rodney joined her warily.

"Well..." Rodney said, fidgeting. What was it about women and the 'we need to talk' that drove fear into the hearts of grown men.

"Rodney... I... I've met someone," Laura said.

"Oh?" Rodney asked, trying for vague interest, instead of the burning curiosity that sparked inside him.

"Yes. He's a lovely man, a Doctor, a medical Doctor. His name is Carson Beckett. We met while I was overseas and things... well, we're... we're planning to get married," Laura said.

Rodney gave himself a moment for the information to sink in. What was he supposed to say. He had the indistinct notion he was supposed to say something along the lines of congratulations, so he did.

"That's wonderful news," Rodney offered, smiling as genuinely as he could.

"Thanks Rodney," Laura smiled hugging him. "I was really worried about telling you."

"I'm happy for you," Rodney said. It was true, Laura deserved to be happy and her face lit up when she mentioned Carson Beckett.

"I'm so relieved, because there was something else I wanted to ask you about," Laura said. "I was hoping... well my father's dead and there is no one else I'd really be happy with... I was hoping you might give me away."

"Wow. Um... of course, yes, I'd be happy too," Rodney said, startled.

Laura's face lit up and she hugged him again, even tighter. "Thank you Rodney, it really means a lot to me. I know it's short notice..."

"How short?" Rodney asked.

"Well... two weeks. But we're having the wedding locally, we've both been given new assignments to Colorado, Cheyenne Mountain... I'm finally gonna get to find out what it is you do," Laura said, laughing a little.

"Two weeks?" Rodney blinked.

"We wanted to get married sooner rather than later, so it's all out of the way and settled before we start our new jobs. Taking leave the first month of a new assignment wouldn't look good." Laura shrugged. Rodney shouldn't have been surprised, they'd done the same thing themselves once upon a time.

"Of course everyone's invited. I was thinking of asking Piper and Madison if they'd like to be involved. You know, maybe bridesmaids, or Madison could be flower girl. Piper and John are still here aren't they?" Laura asked.

"Yes. John came back after you left. I was meaning to pull you about that..." Rodney said.

Laura looked vaguely repentant. "Um..."

"Thank you," Rodney said, smiling softly. "I could never have asked him back myself."

"We'll call it even after you walk me down the aisle," Laura said, smiling.

*~*~*~*~*

When John got back with the girls, Laura and Rodney were chatting and laughing, all signs of discomfort gone.

"Oh God, you two aren't... not again..." Madison said.

"Excuse me?" Rodney said.

"Um... it's just, you know, you already tried getting back together and it was okay and all but it didn't really work..." Madison said.

Laura laughed. "She's got a point Rodney. We're not getting back together again Madison. Actually I came to see you guys, because I have some good news."

"What news?" Madison asked.

"Well, I've met someone new. And we're getting married. I was hoping, you'd be my flower girl and that Piper would be my bridesmaid," Laura said.

"Really? Do I get to wear a pretty dress?" Madison asked.

"Oh cool!" Piper exclaimed and suddenly, John and Rodney felt distinctly out of place as Laura and the two girls starting discussing dresses and flowers and who knew a seven year old knew so much about weddings. Rodney wondered where she'd picked it up, it certainly wasn't from him.

*~*~*~*~*

Laura said her fiancé, was at a hotel near by, she thought it would be best if she and Rodney spoke first, but she invited them all to dinner that night to meet the groom and discuss wedding plans.

Rodney felt silly, he'd never been one for dressing up, but John had insisted he wear his blue suit, because the restaurant was a pretty swanky place. Rodney thought John would have felt far more uncomfortable than him, but he looked completely at ease in the grey suit he was wearing.

The maître d' showed them to their table, where they were greeted by Laura and the man they assumed to be Carson Beckett.

"Rodney, John. Girls," Laura stood up and kissed both men on the cheek.

"Everyone, this is my fiancé, Carson Beckett. Carson, this is Rodney McKay, Madison Miller, John Sheppard and Piper Sheppard," Laura introduced.

"Gentlemen nice to meet you. And it is a pleasure to meet two such lovely young ladies," Carson smiled easily, his accent a thick and obvious Scottish.

Piper and Madison both blushed and looked appropriately complimented, while John returned the sentiments on both his and Rodney's behalf, while Rodney remained quiet.

"I hope you don't mind, we went ahead and order starters," Laura said. "I think I got something everyone will like."

"That's fine, sorry we're a little late, traffic was worse than I expected," John said.

"Oh that's alright, we were just discussing wedding plans," Carson spoke to them all and smiled, but his eyes were focused on Laura.

John smiled at how sweet it was, remembering when he and Jen had been engaged, he could hardly take his eyes of her either. Rodney didn't seem as impressed.

*~*~*~*~*

"I don't like him," Rodney said later. John had somehow managed to drag him into the dinner conversation enough that he didn't seem completely rude, he had no doubt Laura had picked up on it, but Carson seemed mercifully oblivious.

"You didn't give him a chance Rodney," John said, looking towards the stairs, just to make sure no little ears were listening in.

"He's too... nice," Rodney said.

"Perish the thought someone should have manners," John rolled his eyes.

"Or maybe he's just pretending to have manners," Rodney said.

"I didn't know you'd had ocular transplants," John said.

"What?" Rodney asked.

"You had your blue eyes replaced with green," John said.

"I did not! I am not jealous!" Rodney said.

"Right, you're not jealous and I'm going to be the next president," John said.

"Well people would probably vote for you if you slept with them," Rodney retorted.

"Rodney... you're being ridiculous, Carson seems like a very nice man and he clearly adores Laura. Are you regretting your divorce?" John asked.

"No. Laura and I were just not meant to be," Rodney said.

"Then why are you being so stubborn about this. She's happy. She's found a man she loves and who loves her," John said.

"We've only been divorced a few months," Rodney said.

"Sometimes all it takes is five minutes," John shrugged. He'd known the moment he set eyes on Jen that she was the woman he wanted to marry.

"I haven't even been on a date in that time... and suddenly, she's getting married," Rodney said.

"You're not jealous of Carson, you're jealous of Laura," John snorted, thinking he should have got it before.

"I know I told you I didn't really see myself getting married again, but... I guess I'd like someone like that in my life," Rodney admitted.

"I think we all would Rodney. And at the risk of sounding like a harlequin romance novel... you'll find someone, if you have a little patience and a lot of faith," John said.

"Christ that was bad... that was worse than harlequin," Rodney snorted.

John laughed out loud. "It was pretty bad," he agreed. "I miss having someone. Jen was... she was my world, her and Piper. You know we got married in Paris, on a cruise boat sailing down the River Seine, I was going to be deployed a few weeks later. We were going to wait, do it right, back here with all our friends, but in the end we just went for it. And you miss it, when it's gone, that person you can come home to every day and they'll listen to you grip about work, make you laugh with stories of their day. I don't know if I'll ever find anyone else, ever get married again. But until then, this isn't so bad... me, you and the kids. We're a little odd as families go, but we do okay, right?"

"Yeah. I guess we are a family... I never really thought about it. Actually, having you might be better than having a wife... you cook, you clean, you listen to my gripping... and you never say you have a headache," Rodney said.

John laughed, putting his hand to his head. "You know, I think I feel one coming on..."

"Liar," Rodney said, laughing with him. "I do kinda miss that..."

"What, the headaches?" John asked.

Rodney glared, but amusement still sparkled in his eyes. "No the sex."

John shrugged. "That's why they invented the one night stand."

"Well you come home every night and I've never met any strange women at the breakfast table," Rodney said.

"It doesn't always take a whole night," John shrugged again, feeling suddenly embarrassed. In truth, he hadn't really been out on a date since he moved here. He'd only really been on a few period since Jen died, but it really didn't seem like a big deal and he really didn't even miss the sex... but talking about it with Rodney was just... odd.

"Hmmm..." Rodney seemed thoughtful, but didn't say anything more.

*~*~*~*~*

Things moved in fast forward. Rodney couldn't help but offer to pay for things, he was technically acting as father of the bride and although Laura and Carson turned him down on most things, he did managed to persuade Laura to let him pay for her dress.

"You look stunning," Rodney said, his mouth a little dry, when he went with her to dry on the dress she'd picked. It was a simple ivory gown, with a fitted bodice and a skirt that swooshed when she moved.

"Thanks," Laura smiled. Rodney wondered if she'd looked so contented, so happy, when she'd been trying on the dress she wore to their wedding.

"Wow!" Madison's eyes widened. "You look like a fairy princess!"

"Thanks Maddie," Laura said. "You two look like little princesses yourselves, let me see you properly."

Madison and Piper moved into the light better, letting Laura see them in the dresses they'd chosen. Madison was in pale pink, sparkly bits all over the skirt and matching slippers. Piper was in pink too, but her dress was a little more grown up, with roses sewn into the waist like a belt.

"Do I look okay Uncle Rodney?" Madison asked.

"You look wonderful, Maddie. Both of you look wonderful," Rodney smiled and mentally thanked John for the mental head slap before they left that reminded him to smile and offer compliments to the two girls and not just the bride.

"You'd better go get changed though, Carson will be meeting us for lunch and then we have to go pick flowers," Laura said.

Rodney had told Laura she could go flower hunting with her husband. Stand in father of the bride or not, dying from hay fever wasn't his idea of a fun afternoon. If she wanted to take his check book, she was welcome to it, but he was going to leave them off at the restaurant and head home.

Laura refused his check book, giving him a kiss and a hug when he dropped her off. "Thanks Rodney."

"You kids have fun," Rodney said, in what he felt was a fair impersonation of John. Rodney chuckled to himself as he pulled out to drive home. John would kill him for that.

*~*~*~*~*

"Rodney..." Laura bit her lip the next day, while they sat around discussing plans for the rehearsal dinner the following weekend. Carson had sat out the discussion, taking the girls for ice cream instead. Rodney wanted to go too, but Laura had glared at him in that way she had and he'd sat down again. No fair, he wasn't even the one getting married this time and he had to deal with all this.

"I was wondering, if you and John could do me one more favour," Laura asked.

John lounged casually, in the way only he could seem to pull off and nodded lazily. "Sure Laura, what is it?" he murmured, while Rodney said, "We'll see," because saying yes automatically could only end badly.

"I was wondering, if you two could take Carson out... you know, kinda of a stag night. Elizabeth the girls and I are doing something, but Carson doesn't really know anyone in the area yet," Laura said.

"Oh. I guess..." Rodney frowned. He hadn't had a stag night... and the only one he'd attended lately had been Zelenka's, which all who attended were willing to admit, was an unmitigated disaster.

"Sure, we can take him out for a few drinks," John said, without even twitching. Rodney was almost relieved, it was a safe bet John at least knew what he was doing.

"Thanks guys, you're the best, you've both been so great these last two weeks," Laura gave them a genuine smile.

"Our pleasure," John said. Rodney smiled and made an agreeable sort of noise. He didn't understand why Laura and John gave each other an 'understanding' look and laughed, but he wasn't curious enough to ask...

*~*~*~*~*

"What were you two giggling about earlier?" Rodney asked. Well he hadn't been curious enough to ask in front of Laura anyway, John had never lied to him, asking him seemed like the smartest course of action.

"Nothing Rodney," John said, chuckling.

"Uh huh," Rodney said, unconvinced.

"If you must know, Laura and I were comparing how it was to live with you now, verses how it was to live with you when she was with you. You haven't changed much," John said.

"I... why?" Rodney asked.

"Mostly, just to amuse ourselves," John shrugged.

"Women!" Rodney said.

John coughed and looked at him pointedly. "Um... ex-wives and housekeepers."

John snorted. "Do you want a wake up call in the morning?"

"Yes, I need to go in early. I have an experiment to run that's going to take me the better part of a day, I might be late home too," Rodney said.

"Sure, I'll make something for dinner that can be easily warmed up," John said. Huh. Maybe he was the woman in this relationship... this um... well it wasn't a relationship but... whatever it was. That should really disturb him more than it did. "Seven okay for you?"

"Better make it six-thirty," Rodney said.

"Oh that'll be fun," John said. Rodney was never fun that early in the morning.

*~*~*~*~*

Rodney was late home the next night, but not by much. Over dinner, John broached the idea of the stag night.

"We should get a stripper," Rodney suggests automatically. It was the only part of Zelenka's party that was any fun.

"I don't know if Carson is the stripper kinda guy," John said.

"He's a guy, that by definition makes him the stripper kind of guy," Rodney said.

John shrugged. He didn't necessarily agree, but what they hell.

"And um... beer," Rodney offered.

"That much was a given," John chuckled. "I think we should just stay here though, rather than go out."

"But Laura and the girls will be down at Elizabeth's place, we can't have a stripper here while they're... there," Rodney said.

"Well it's that, or one of us goes tee-total, because there is no one local suitable and getting a taxi from the city will be a bitch on a Friday night," John said.

"Oh. I never thought of that," Rodney said. "I guess here will be okay. We'll just have to make sure Elizabeth keeps her curtains closed and we lock the doors."

John chuckled. Rodney now seemed almost embarrassed by the idea of a stripper. "Why don't you invite a few people from work. If Carson's going to be working there, it wouldn't hurt to meet a few of them."

"I guess. I'll see if any of them are free," Rodney said, he frowned. "Just none of the marines."

John laughed. "That's entirely up to you."

*~*~*~*~*

"Okay," Laura said. "Who goes first?"

"Well you're the bride to be..." Elizabeth smirked.

"Yeah, you need your make up done!" Madison said.

Laura looked worried, but nodded. "Do your worse," she told them; maybe... she thought as Madison lifted a bright pink lip gloss, she shouldn't have said that.

Elizabeth sniggered. "It's very... becoming."

"You look pretty," Madison said, holding up a mirror. Laura tried not to look too shocked as Elizabeth snapped a picture of her.

Her face was orange with powdered foundation, her eyes done with bright green eye shadow and red blusher on her cheeks. Madison's pink lip gloss rounded of the startling look.

"The green really brings out your eyes," Elizabeth said.

"Hmm... I think it's your turn," Laura said, looking at Piper conspiratorially. Piper liked her. Elizabeth was in for it now.

*~*~*~*~*

"Cheers," John raised his bottle a little. In the end, Rodney had opted to only invite a couple of people from work. Radek Zelenka, John had met before. He was an odd Czech scientist with wild hair. John liked him; he had excellent taste in beer. And John finally got to meet the infamous Melvin Kavanaugh who really wasn't as smart as Rodney, but he wasn't a bad guy.

They were on their third hand of poker when the door knocked. Rodney almost spilled his beer, getting up to answer it.

"Excuse me," Rodney blushed, moving past them.

"Are you the homeowner?" a woman in uniform stood at the door.

"Yeah... yes..." Rodney stammered. "Rodney McKay, Hi."

"I'm looking for Doctor Carson Beckett," the woman smiled.

"I'm Carson Beckett," Carson stood up, looking confused. "Is there a problem officer?"

"Not at all Doctor Beckett. I just need to ask you a few questions," the woman smiled, sultry as she moved towards Carson. "Have you been a bad boy Doctor Beckett?"

"I... excuse me," Carson stammered.

"We've had several reports..." she said, pushing him back into his seat, practically sitting on his lap. John kindly hit play on the hi-fi, as she started to shimmy.

Carson was blushing furiously, but his eyes didn't leave her. John could appreciate that, she was gorgeous. Long blond hair, her uniform tight in all the right places... and fast coming off, revealing tanned skin and no tan lines.

*~*~*~*~*

"Very becoming," Laura smirked, snapping several pictures.

"Very," Piper agreed.

Elizabeth squeaked when she looked into the mirror. Her face was so pale It was almost white, with clownish red cheeks and lips, her eyes were done with a mix of yellow and orange eye shadow.

"Paybacks a bitch," Laura whispered, looking immensely pleased with herself. Piper gave her a hi-five over Elizabeth's head.

"Okay, enough war paint. Who's up for a movie," Elizabeth said.

"Me!" both girls shouted, giggling. Beauty and the Beast was popped into the player and both children and adults were soon singing along embarrassingly loud and off key.

*~*~*~*~*

John threw the many empty bottles and other trash into a bag. Melvin and Radek had gone home, Radek's wife was a lot more good natured than Jen probably would have been about the state of her husband when she picked them up. Carson was currently snoring off his beers in Madison's room, while Rodney snoozed lightly on the couch.

"Rodney, come on, up you get," John shook him awake.

"Hmm... hey..." Rodney murmured sleepily, looking up at him.

"Off to bed you go," John smiled softly.

"What you doing?" Rodney asked, sitting up.

"Just cleaning up a little before bed," John said.

"I'll help," Rodney offered.

"It's fine Rodney, honestly, another five minutes and I'll be done, go to bed," John said.

"Kay..." Rodney smiled dopily. "Goodnight."

*~*~*~*~*

The rehearsal dinner was a small gathering, held in a restaurant in Colorado Springs, just the wedding party was in attendance, along with a few extra family members. John took to Carson's mother right away, she was a bustling woman, with a kindly smile and a devilish twinkle in her eye. Rodney was instantly afraid of her... that almost made John like her more.

"I think you'd better watch Piper," Rodney said, half way through desert.

"Why?" John asked, looking over at his daughter. "Ah."

"Someone's got a new crush. Look's like Andrew Parker is out of the picture," Rodney said.

Piper was engaged in deep conversation with a boy, around the same age, that John thought might have been a young cousin of Carson's. He wouldn't have given it a second glance, but she was blushing and twirling her hair in the way Jen had done a million times when flirting with him.

"Well, my suit is grey... I could get away with wearing it to a wedding and a funeral," John suggested.

"Do you really want to face Laura if she has to give up her honeymoon to attend a funeral?" Rodney asked.

John considered it for a moment. "Maybe not."

"What are you two whispering about?" Laura asked across the table.

"Us? Nothing," John smiled innocently.

"No killing any of Carson's relatives," Laura said, looking knowingly over at the table where Piper sat, giggling.

"Would we do that?" Rodney asked.

"I have met you both," Laura said.

John grinned, quirking his head to one side. "Honestly, we're not plotting anyone's untimely demise."

Laura snorted. "Just to make sure, come dance with me."

"I don't dance," John said.

"This week, you do," Laura said, giving him a pointed look.

John shrugged. "Okay, but if your toes regret it, just remember, I warned you..."

*~*~*~*~*

The morning of the wedding dawned bright. It was pleasantly warm and the sky was mercifully blue. John hummed a little to himself as he jogged.

"Where have you been?" Rodney demanded as soon as he got in.

"Out running. Why?" John asked.

"It's the wedding today!" Rodney said.

"Not for another five and a half hours, Rodney," John chuckled. "I'll be ready in plenty of time."

Rodney frowned. "But there are... things to do and..."

"You know anyone would think you were the one getting married," John laughed.

"Don't be ridiculous. I just want this day to go off without a hitch for her. She deserves that," Rodney said.

John smiled. Rodney really was just a softy at heart. "And she'll get it Rodney. Now, why don't you have a cup of coffee while I get a shower and then I'll get Carson up and make breakfast."

"Right," Rodney nodded.

John showered quickly, mostly because Rodney would get even more neurotic if left to his own devices too long and went to wake up the groom. John had actually thought Carson was quiet normal, but when coupled with Rodney, John thought they were vying for Neurotic of the Year, because both of them were being crazy.

Eventually, John convinced Rodney that he should really go get showered and dressed and go see the bride, promising on Piper's life that he would get Carson to the wedding on time and sober.

Carson wasn't any less neurotic alone. John rolled his eyes, smiled and sent Carson to get ready. Only a couple of hours and they could leave. Carson could become one half of Mr and Mrs. Beckett and they could all ply themselves with enough champagne that they'd be able to laugh at the craziness of the morning.

*~*~*~*~*

From where John sat, in the second row, Carson, who stood next to his young cousin, acting as best man - the same kid Piper and been flirting with and you could bet they were going to have words about that – looked ready to burst a blood vessel, constantly looking at his watch. He almost felt sorry for him. Utter relief that flooded his face when the music started and Laura appeared at the end of the aisle. John smiled, like there had been any real doubt.

Madison came down first, sprinkling petals and John smiled proudly at Piper, she looked beautiful, her hair up in a French twist and dress, he noticed she was even wearing a little make up. But the bride completely stole the show. Laura looked radiant, standing next to Rodney, who looked fit to burst with pride as he walked her down the aisle. Her gown was gorgeous, her red hair curled lightly, falling around her shoulders, with just a little make up.

"Ladies and gentlemen," the official said, not a priest, because neither Laura, nor Carson it seemed were particularly religious. Although he knew Mrs. Beckett was going to do a reading.

John listened with half an ear, not because he was bored, but because it brought back so many memories. All of them good. He caught Rodney glancing his way and smiled. Somehow he thought Rodney was enjoying a few memories of his own. Rodney and Laura had some good times once and he wished her all the luck in the world, but it didn't mean he couldn't remember and yearn for happier times.

"By the power invested in me, by the state of Colorado, I now pronounce you man and wife, you may kiss the bride," the official said.

Laura smiled brightly as Carson kissed her gently. John didn't even need to guess at the word being whispered between them.

The official smiled, looking out at the gathered guests. "It is my honour now to present, Mr. and Mrs. Carson Beckett."

*~*~*~*~*

"Ladies and Gentlemen, the couple will now have their first dance," John sat beside Rodney, pleasantly mellow from the good food and drink, as he watched the couple take to the floor.

"They look happy," Rodney commented.

"They do," John agreed, giving Rodney a sideways glance.

"Do you ever think about getting married again?" Rodney asked.

John shrugged. "I guess, if I meet the right person."

Rodney makes a vague sound, but doesn't really respond. John smiles to himself, dips a little lower in the chair and enjoys the atmosphere.

*~*~*~*~*

Getting home, was an interesting experience. Five of the in a cab, dressed to the nines, Madison mostly asleep in John's arms, while Piper and Elizabeth curled up next to him with Rodney in front. Rodney made the cabbie stop three times when he thought he was going to throw up, so John gave him a nice big tip. It was the least he could do.

Elizabeth went to her own bungalow and he put Madison to bed, getting her dress off her and tucking her in, while Piper went and got herself changed. Double checking she too was in bed, he threw his tie over the handle to his door, as he headed back down stairs.

"Rodney, what are you doing?" John asked.

"I'm hungry..." Rodney said.

John looked at the gathered jumble of ingredients. "So you're..."

"Making pancakes," Rodney rolled his eyes, listing slightly too the left.

"Oh," and some part of John was saying that was a silly thing to be doing, but the rest of him thought it was actually not a bad idea. "I'll help."

Helping Rodney to cook was hard enough when they were both sober, but drunk it was... fun. Lots of fun. And John would swear until his dying day that it was Rodney who started the food fight.

Flour flew, eggs cracked just behind his head when he ducked, Rodney got a dusting of sugar in his hair and then suddenly John was having trouble breathing as their lips met.

John pulled back, because really, he wasn't supposed to kiss Rodney. He wasn't. But Rodney looked at him, eyes dark and John leaned forward and kissed him again, feeling Rodney's fingers grip his biceps as John's caught in Rodney's hair and it was really, really good.

Rodney made a noise in his throat that made John pull back again. "You okay?" he asked softly.

Rodney shook his head and frowned. "I think I'm gonna throw up..."
The Prodigal Father-in-Law by kez
Rodney woke the following morning, head bounding and fuzzy. He groaned as he peaked out of one eye, before rolling over and burying his face in the pillow. Was this was dying felt like? If so, could death just hurry it along?

"Good morning Rodney..." Elizabeth said, poking her head around his door. "Or should I say, good afternoon."

"Stop shouting," Rodney grumbled, pulling the quilt up over his head.

"Do you have a hangover?" Elizabeth asked.

"Yes. And never, ever again," Rodney said. "Ever."

"Hmm. What happened to the kitchen?" Elizabeth asked.

"The kitchen I... I think... something with flour," Rodney peaked out from under his cocoon.

Elizabeth gave him a quizzical look. "Flour?"

"Yes we were... I was making pancakes!" Rodney winced at his own voice and tried to resist the urge to hide under the covers again. "John helped me and we baked pancakes... oh God."

"What?" Elizabeth asked.

"I kissed John," Rodney said.

"Yeah?" Elizabeth pressed.

"Yeah, what?" Rodney asked.

Elizabeth rolled her eyes. "What happened?"

"Well I... I'm not sure, we were making pancakes and then we kissed and... I remember rolling around in bed... Oh God. I think I slept with John!" Rodney winced again.

"Wow. Better than I thought," Elizabeth said.

Rodney glared. "Gossip monger."

*~*~*~*~*

"Good morning, John," Rodney said, cautiously.

"'Morning Rodney. How're ya feeling?" John asked, wiping a smudge of flower from the backdoor frame.

"Lousy," Rodney answered honestly. "As God as my witness, I will never go drinking again. And Laura will pay for her part in this."

John snorted. "Yeah well, I got just the thing for ya. Something to make you feel like a brand new man. Tomato juice and Tabasco!"

Rodney just groaned and sat down at the table, if it worked, he didn't care what was in it. In fact, the way his stomach curled unpleasantly at the idea of it, he'd rather not know.

"That was uh... some night last night huh?" John said, putting a glass in front of him.

"Well, all evidence seems to point in that direction," Rodney agreed, eyeing the glass with caution before he took a sip.

John nodded. "Yeah, maybe we should... talk about it."

"John, I don't really know what to say. It was all so surreal," Rodney said. Well, what the hell could he say?

"Does that mean you don't want to talk about it?" John seemed relieved. "You're right. It's was no big deal."

Rodney looked at him startled. "No big deal?"

Yeah, I mean, it was nice and all that, but you know..." John shrugged.

"Nice? John, nice is hardly the word I would use to describe having ... well, what we... you know." Rodney glared.

John looked at him, confused. "No, I don't think I do know. What?"

"Sex all right? We had sex!" Rodney said, looking around like someone might have over heard them.

"We did?" John still looked at him, with confusion. "No we didn't! Rodney, I'm not that kind of guy. All we did was fool around a little bit in the kitchen."

Rodney frowned. "I beg your pardon?"

"You know, we made pancakes, we threw a little flour... we had a little kiss. And then I took you up to your room," John said.

Rodney's hand went to a lump on his head. "Did you slam me into the door?"

"Now you're starting to figure it out, yeah that was me! Yeah, then I carried you upstairs and put you to bed," John said.

"Oh! So you're saying all that happened was you kissed me?" Rodney clarified.

"Thats it," John assured. "Feel better?"

Rodney looked relieved. "Yeah."

"Good. But just for the record, I didn't kiss you, you kissed me." John said.

"I did not," Rodney said.

"You did too," John said

"Did not," Rodney said.

"Did too," John said.

"I did n... If I did, which is still in question, I didn't mean it," Rodney said.

John smirked. "Take it from me, you meant it."

"Well, you seemed to like it," Rodney argued.

"How would you remember Doctor Lost Weekend?" John said.

Rodney frowned. "You didn't like it?"

"That's not what I meant!" John said.

"I knew you liked it!" Rodney said triumphant. "I remembered that. I... uh... guess I was pretty out of it last night."

John nodded. "Lets just say we uh, we both got a little carried away."

"John, if... um, we both got so carried away... how come you..."

"Left?" John finished.

Rodney nodded. "I guess you must have had an awful lot to drink."

"Yeah. I did. But you know, carrying you up the stairs sorta sobered me up," John said.

"I guess you had a pretty bad headache," Rodney suggested.

"No, that came later. Oh what a headache," John said.

"I guess I looked kinda bad," Rodney said, frowning.

" Oh no you looked really... uh... not bad, you know, just like usual... but with a kinda dopy expression," John said.

"I wasn't fishing or anything," Rodney said.

"I know, it's me here... Its just that uh, I mean if anything ever did happen between us, I wouldn't wanna loose you, as a friend," John said.

"Oh," Rodney said. "I wouldn't want to loose you either, as a friend."

"And ah... if we ever did, loose each other... as friends, I'd want you to remember it," John said.

Rodney nodded. "Me too."

*~*~*~*~*

"And how are the lovebirds now?" Elizabeth asked later.

"Elizabeth, it seems... I had a slight memory lapse and I filled in the wrong blanks. Now, John explained the whole thing, nothing happened," Rodney said quietly.

Elizabeth gave him a sceptical look. "And you believed him?"

Rodney suddenly looked doubtful. John wouldn't have lied would he?

John stopped his thoughts from going any further, coming in, with a feather duster to clean, singing to himself. "Oh baby. Oh oh babe. Oh oh oh oh oh. Oh baby.

Rodney's face went bright red, while Elizabeth smirked.

"What? It was just an imitation. I was just..." John ducked when Rodney threw a pillow at him.

*~*~*~*~*

Mercifully, things settled back to normal. Rodney couldn't quiet forget the kiss, but he put it down to being around John every day and ignored it. If John could ignore it, so could he.

"2659," Piper said, stuffing a piece of toast in her mouth.

"Prime," Madison said. "3543."

"Not prime," Piper replied. "9966."

Madison frowned. "Not prime."

"Good guess," Piper said.

"I didn't guess," Madison argued.

"Girls, no spilling blood over the breakfast table," John warned.

"Yes Dad," Piper said. "Yes John," Madison said. Both of them talking over the top of each other.

"Do you girls have all your things ready for school?" he asked.

Two more 'yeses' came his way.

"Piper do you have your sports kit?" John asked.

"Yeah," Piper nodded.

"Okay, finish up breakfast then, we'll get going," John said.

"Morning..." Rodney stumbled in, looking bed ragged.

"Someone looks cheerful this morning," John commented.

"Hmmm..." Rodney grunted and headed for the coffee cup.

"Girls, go get your coats on," John said.

"I didn't hear you come in until after five..." John said, once the girls were out of hearing range.

"Hmm... work, crisis," Rodney said around his cup.

"You look wrecked, you're not going in today are you?" John asked.

"Later maybe," Rodney shrugged.

John withheld from commenting, Rodney wouldn't listen anyway. "I've got to drop the girls off, I'll make you some breakfast when I get back, okay?"

Rodney grunted in the affirmative and poured himself a second mug of coffee. Sometimes, John wondered if it wouldn't just be easier to hook him up to a drip.

*~*~*~*~*

John made a quick stop at the bakery on his way home, to get some pastries. Rodney wouldn't admit to it aloud, but he loved them. He wasn't expecting to see another car there, when he arrived home. He gave it a curious look as he noticed the rental plates.

John was not prepared for who he saw when he walked into the house.

"Hello John," the older man, with hair that was thinning and grey, stood straight. He wore casual clothes, but John could still almost see the uniform.

"James," John inclined his head.

"Sorry to spring this visit on you, but I was doing a visit to the Academy and I thought I'd spend a few days leave, see you and Piper," James smiled.

"Piper's just gone to school," John said.

"Well, that's okay, I'll see her later. How are you?" James asked.

John glanced at Rodney, noting how uncomfortable he looked. "Fine, thank you. You?"

"Oh I'm ticking along. Doctor McKay here was just singing your praises," James said.

"Rodney's a very easy boss to work for," John said.

"Speaking of work, I should really get going..." Rodney said.

"You haven't had breakfast yet," John said. Silently thinking 'please, please stay'.

"I'll grab something there. It was a pleasure meeting you General," Rodney said, scampering up stairs.

"Can I get you a cup of coffee?" John asked when Rodney had disappeared.

"Coffee would be great," James smiled. John didn't.

*~*~*~*~*

"Grandpa!" Piper grinned, flinging herself in James arms.

"Hey princess, how's my favourite Granddaughter?" James asked.

"I'm good grandpa, when did you get here? Dad didn't tell me you were coming," Piper said.

"It was a surprise visit. I was in the area, couldn't think of a better way to spend a few days than with you," James smiled. "And I brought you a present."

"You did? What?" Piper asked excited.

"It's in the car Princess," James said.

"And you can have it after you've done your homework," John interrupted.

"Oh come on now John..." James said.

"No. Homework," John put his foot down.

"But Dad..." Piper said.

"Piper Belle Sheppard," John said. "You will get to spend more time with your grandfather after you've done your homework."

Piper huffed, but she sat down at the table.

"James, why don't you get yourself sorted at the hotel and come back for dinner," John suggested.

"Oh. There is a hotel in the area?" James asked. John scowled. He wasn't going to invite him to stay, he wasn't going to invite him to stay, he wasn't going to...

"Oh that place is awful.. You can stay here," Rodney said. "Though I'm afraid we don't have a spare bedroom, but I'm sure the girls can share and you can have Piper's room."

John glared at Rodney. "That's sounds like a wonderful idea, thank you Doctor McKay," James said.

"Why don't I help you with your bag," John offered tightly.

*~*~*~*~*

"I hope I'm not putting you out John," James said.

"It's fine," John said.

"I am. I'll go find the hotel," James said.

"No. Piper will be disappointed if you leave now," John said.

"I don't want to overstep my bounds," James said.

"You already did," John muttered.

James paused. "Ah. I'm sorry about before, with Piper, I just thought..."

"No, you didn't. Look, Piper is happy and settled and I like it that way. She comes home, she does her homework and then watches a little TV before dinner. If she wants to spend time with you rather than watch TV, or after dinner, that's fine. But it's important she keeps up with her school work," John said.

James nodded. "You're correct of course, won't happen again."

John nodded, but his expression didn't lighten. He didn't believe for a moment James Keller was just 'in the area'... but he wasn't really sure he wanted to find out the real reason for his visit.

*~*~*~*~*

"Did I do something wrong?" Rodney asked after dinner. The girls were in the living room with James.

John sighed. "No."

"You're annoyed," Rodney said.

"Not at you," John said.

"Well you won't even look at me," Rodney said.

John turned around, glaring at Rodney. "I think I liked it better when you wouldn't look at me."

"I'm sorry. It's just... I don't get along with my father in law. He's... he can be forceful. He has issues telling the difference between his soldiers and his family," John said.

"He didn't seem so bad," Rodney said.

"Yeah," John smiled tightly. "Give it a few days."

"I could ask him to leave," Rodney offered.

"No. Piper will only get hurt if he leaves now," John said.

"You don't think he's just here to see her?" Rodney said.

"No. I don't," John said.

*~*~*~*~*

"Dad, can grandpa take me and Maddie to the mall tomorrow after school?" Piper asked.

"Tomorrow's a school night, you can go at the weekend," John said.

Piper frowned. "But he said..."

"Piper, I'm you're father and I'm saying no. It's a school night and you'll have homework," John said.

"That's not fair!" Piper said.

"Is everything okay?" James asked.

"No! Dad won't let me go to the Mall," Piper said.

"What I said was you can't go tomorrow. You can go at the weekend," John said.

"Oh, I didn't think. Sorry. You're Dad's right Piper, tomorrow is a school night," James said.

"Fine!" Piper stormed upstairs in a huff.

"I am sorry John, I really didn't think," James said.

"Oh you thought, you thought you could walk in here and undermine me at every turn with my daughter! I want to know why you're really here and I want to know now!" John said.

James held his hands up. "Honestly, John I'm not trying to undermine you. And I just came to see my granddaughter."

"Undermine me once more and you're out of here," John said, his expression hard.

"Understood," James looked apologetic. John didn't believe it for a second.

*~*~*~*~*

James didn't do anything over the next couple of days, but just having him there was enough to set John on edge. Still, he let Piper and Madison go with him on Saturday to the Mall and to see a movie. Mistake.

"Are they home yet?" Rodney asked.

"Not yet," John said, looking outside.

"And he's not answering his mobile?" Rodney asked.

"Nope," John said.

"Where the hell are they?" Rodney asked.

"If I knew that, I'd go and get them," John said.

"Is that them?" Rodney asked, nosing in behind John.

"Looks like it, keep your cool Rodney, lets just get the girls off to bed first," John said.

Rodney grumbled, but kept quite.

"Hey Dad!" Piper bounced in, Madison trailing behind her, looking sleepy.

"Girls. It's past your bedtime, go get ready," John said.

Piper frowned. "But..."

"Bed," John said insistently.

"Okay..." Piper said.

"You too Maddie," Rodney said, giving Madison a kiss on her cheek.

Both girls disappeared upstairs just as James came in. "I know, we're late..."

"We'll discuss this in the morning," John said, expression hard.

James nodded. "If I could just..."

"In the morning," John repeated.

"Why did you let him off?" Rodney asked.

"I'm not letting him off, but the girls are going swimming with Elizabeth in the morning. I don't want to get into this with them in the house," John said.

"Okay..." Rodney said.

"I'm going to bed," John said.

*~*~*~*~*

The screaming woke John up, just after two am. He bolted up and out of bed, stubbing his toe on the way to the door. "Damn!" he bit his lip, tumbling into the hallway at the same time as Rodney. They looked at each other, opening the girls room.

Madison was sitting awake on her bed, tears streaming down her face. "Maddie, what's wrong?" Rodney asked, sitting beside her.

"I had a bad dream," Madison said, snuggling into his arms.

"You want to tell me about it?" Rodney asked.

"There were vampires and they bit me," Madison said.

"Vampires... Maddie where did you see Vampires?" John asked. Madison didn't even watch Buffy.

"The movie," Madison said.

"Grandpa took us to see a movie. There were Vampires, but it wasn't scary," Piper said.

John bit his tongue. "Maddie is a lot younger than you Piper."

"She's just being stupid," Piper said.

"Piper, go sleep in my room," John said.

"Why?" Piper asked.

"Because I said so," John said sharply. "Maddie honey, do you want a glass of warm milk?"

"Can I have chocolate milk?" Madison asked.

"Sure think M&M," John said, pushing Piper towards his room as he went to make it.

It took them ages to get Madison settled again and by then, they were both so awake, they ended up in the kitchen, nursing hot chocolates.

"I'm beginning to see what you mean about him," Rodney said.

"I'll ask him to leave in the morning," John said.

"What will Piper say?" Rodney asked.

"Probably that I'm a horrible person, terrible father and that she hates me," John shrugged. "But he's got to go. Taking Maddie to a movie like that was just irresponsible."

"She'll get over it," Rodney said.

"Sure, but she's lost a little bit of innocence because of it. James and my father served together you know... so I've seen this routine before with kids. Toughen them up..." John said.

"Why would he want to toughen them up?" Rodney asked.

"I called my Dad's PA. We went to high school together for a couple of years. She was my prom date. I wanted to know if she knew anything about James sudden visit... he and my Dad are close. It seems James has come to talk me into reenlisting," John said.

"Why?" Rodney asked.

"Probably because my Dad wants me to go to Iraq. Make a hero out of me. General Sheppard and his hero son..." John snorted. "When I left the Air Force, he was so pissed. I haven't spoken to him since."

"He couldn't forgive you for leaving..." Rodney said.

"James and my Dad are cut from the same cloth. You know, you'd think Jen and I had been handpicked to meet up and get married... but we'd never even met... hell we moved about so much, I don't think Dad and James were ever in the same place more than three days a year. Dad was furious about me and Jen, James wasn't thrilled either. I think he had her earmarked for someone more important than little old me... but when Jen died, I made a promise to Piper I'd always be there for her and I'm not going back on that. James will be out of here tomorrow if I have to pack his bags myself," John said.

Rodney nodded silently. His parents had been idiots with no idea how to treat a child of his genius, or even Jeannie's, although she had far more social skills than he had. But they'd never tried to outline his life for him. They'd never have tried to force him to follow in their footsteps. In fact, the one thing they'd ever done that was smart was encourage Rodney to go to university as far away from home as possible. He didn't think he'd have survived to long in John's world.

*~*~*~*~*

"James," John said, coolly.

"Good morning John," James smiled.

"I want you out," John said.

James faltered. "I'm sorry?"

"Oh you will be. What the hell were you thinking taking Madison to that movie! How the hell did you even get the attendants to let you in. No, don't answer that, I don't care. She woke up from screaming nightmares and Piper's attitude this week has sucked beyond belief..." John said.

"John, I don't think..."

"Shut up!" John said. "And don't think I don't know why you're really here. I am not going back into the Air Force, so you can go back and tell my father to stick it where the sun don't shine! Now Piper and Madison have gone swimming with Elizabeth and if you're still here when they get back I will personally put you through the door. Without opening it!"

"Now just hold on one moment, Piper is my granddaughter, you can't stop me seeing her," James said.

"You want to bet, lets see how favourably the courts would look on a grown man taking two young girls out to a movie. Showering them in gifts..." John's eyes flashed.

"You wouldn't..." James said.

"Come near me or my daughter ever again and I will," John promised.

"I'm sorry you feel that way John," James said. "If I could just stay to say goodbye to Piper, explain..."

"No," John said.

"She'll want an explanation," James said.

"And I will provide it. Now, I suggest you go and back," John said.

James held his chin up. "Very well. I hope you'll change your mind in time."

John didn't reply.

*~*~*~*~*

"He gone?" Rodney asked.

"Yes," John said.

"What are you going to tell Piper?" Rodney asked.

"He got called away urgently," John shrugged. "Mom to use that line all the time."

"You think she'll believe that?" Rodney asked.

John snorted. "No. I know I never did. But she'll get over it."

"I'm sorry I let him stay," Rodney said.

"You weren't to know," John said.

"No, but I should have asked," Rodney said. "This is your home too."

John smiled softly. "Thanks Rodney."

*~*~*~*~*

"You sent him away!" Piper accused.

"Piper, he's a General, sometimes, General's have to go do General things, he couldn't stay forever," John said.

"Liar!" Piper said.

"Now just hang on a minute young lady..." John said.

"I hate you!" Piper shouted, storming up the stairs, everyone heard her bedroom door slam behind her.

"That went well..." Rodney said.

"She didn't throw anything at me, I call that a win," John sighed, flopping down on the couch.

"Have I mentioned how sorry I am for asking him to stay?" Rodney asked.

John snorted. "A few times."

"Well I really am," Rodney said.

"It's fine Rodney, honestly. Teenagers have temper tantrums, she'll get over it," John said.

"I think I'm glad Maddie's grandparents are just the 'cards twice a year' type," Rodney said.

John chuckled. "Yeah, you're blessed. But she's still going to hate you at some point... at least once a month."

"That's okay, most people I know hate me once an hour," Rodney snorted.

John laughed. "Not me... once a day tops I promise..."
Growing Pains by kez
Madison licked her fingers, a broad grin on her face.

"You enjoying that M&M?" John asked chuckling.

"It's good," Madison said.

John snorted. "You've been spending too much time with your uncle Rodney."

"I resent that remark," Rodney said, licking his own fingers clean.

John chuckled. "Sure Rodney, whatever you say."

"Can I go play on my new bike now?" Madison asked.

"You can once Piper has finished, you two can go out together," John said.

"But Dad, I wanted to call Shannon," Piper complained.

"And Shannon will still be there to call after dinner, you and Madison can go play outside for a while but stay near the house, no further than the oak tree," John said.

Piper grumbled.

*~*~*~*~*

"You ever think they are growing up to quickly?" Rodney asked, when the girls had gone out.

"Every day," John said, chuckling.

"They seem to be growing apart," Rodney said.

"I guess it had to happen sooner or later. Piper's starting to think of herself as more 'grown up' and Maddie is still just a kid," John shrugged. He'd noticed it too, but what could he do. He tried to make sure Piper still spent time with Madison, but she was starting high school soon and Maddie was still in Grade School. Six years was a life time to a teenager.

"Yes, you're right. I just hope Maddie understands that," Rodney said.

"She's a smart kid," John said. "And the Newstone's just moved in down the road, they have a daughter about Maddie's age, maybe we can invite her over for a play date, give Maddie someone new to play with."

"I don't think they'll like that," Rodney said.

"Why?" John asked.

"Zelenka's wife is pregnant; she has child birth classes with Mrs. Newstone. Apparently, they think we are all heathens," Rodney snorted.

John blinked. "Huh."

"They think we're having a big gay relationship and corrupting our children," Rodney clarified.

"Oh," John said. "Maybe it's not such a good idea then."

"I'm gonna go with no," Rodney agreed.

"I'll have a word with her teacher when school starts back, see who she plays with," John said. "See if we can arrange a few play dates."

Rodney shrugged. "Okay. But no one too stupid."

"Sure Rodney, I'll ask for the kids IQ before I decide if they can come over and play," John rolled his eyes. Sometimes, Rodney was seriously socially inept.

*~*~*~*~*

"Dad! We're trying to listen to music!" Piper complained.

"Yes... and?" John asked.

"Well you're interrupting us, with the noise of the vacuum," Piper said.

"Oh, so you'd like me to turn it off?" John asked.

"Yes," Piper said.

"Hmm... Or, you could turn your music off, and finish the Hoovering," John suggested.

"You're right, I'm being selfish, we can still hear the music over the vacuum," Piper said quickly.

"Uh huh," John shook his head with amusement as Piper ran up the stairs.

*~*~*~*~*

Piper flopped down on her bed. "My dad can be so retro."

Shannon giggled. "He's not so bad."

"I can't believe you think my Dad is cute, that's so gross," Piper said.

"Well, I like older men. Teenage boys are so pathetic," Shannon said.

"Isn't that the truth. Although did you see the new boy on the bus last term. His name is Simon. He is so cool," Piper said dreamily.

"And how do you know his name?" Shannon asked.

"He sat beside me on the last day of school," Piper said.

"Oh nice," Shannon said.

"He lives in the house down the lane, you know, on the other side of the orchid..." Piper said.

"Have you been down to see him?" Shannon asked.

"Not yet, but I was going to ask Dad if I could cycle to the pool on Saturday," Piper said.

"I'm so going to miss hanging out with you when I go to school," Shannon said.

"Yeah, me too," Piper said. "I wish I could go."

"Well why don't you?" Shannon asked.

"Are you kidding, my dad could never afford it," Piper said.

"Oh. Sometimes I forget you're..."

"Poor," Piper finished for her.

"Well, maybe you could get a scholarship. You could prove your needy, you don't have a Mercedes," Shannon said.

"Yeah, we have a beat up old van," Piper said.

"It would be so great. We could share a room and my mom says they use to sneak out every weekend to meet boys..." Shannon said.

"I'll bring my make-up," Piper said.

"We could even be on the hockey team together," Shannon said.

"That would be so cool," Piper said. "I'll have to talk to my dad first thought."

*~*~*~*~*

"Dad guess what?" Piper said.

"You've seen the phone bill and you're truly sorry," John said.

"Close," Piper said. "Shannon is going to St Hilda's Ladies College."

"Jeannie went there. It's not a complete loss as schools go," Rodney said.

"Yes. So Dad, I've been thinking..." Piper said.

"Let me guess, you want to go to St Hilda's Ladies College," John said.

"That is unbelievable. You're so wise, so perceptive..."

"Forget it," John said.

"So unfair. Why not?" Piper said.

"Piper, you know we can't afford a place like that," John said.

"I'll get a scholarship, it won't cost you a dime," Piper said.

"In fact," Shannon said. "You'll actually save money."

"And how do you work that out?" John asked.

"Well with me up there and Piper down here, we're talking, long distance phone calls," Shannon said.

"I'll think about it," John said.

"I hate 'I'll think about it', can't you just make up your mind," Piper said.

"Okay... No," John said.

"Why don't you think about it..." Piper said, her and Shannon heading back up the stairs.

"What?" John asked, Elizabeth and Rodney were both giving him confused looks.

"Well... if you don't mind me asking, I'm not sure why you wouldn't just let her apply," Rodney said.

"I've got my reasons," John said.

"Oh. Well I don't mean to intrude... what kind of reasons?" Rodney asked.

"Well, let's say Piper applies and she doesn't get in, it'll break her heart," John said.

"She's a big girl, she'll get over it," Rodney said.

"Or lets say, she gets in and no one likes her," John said.

"That never bothered Rodney," Elizabeth said.

Rodney glared at her. "Just because my circle of friends in school was small, it doesn't mean I didn't have any."

"John," Elizabeth said. "You moved here to give Piper every opportunity. This is every opportunity and more."

"I hate it when your logical," John said.

"It really is quiet a good school. Jeannie really seemed to like it there. Although whether that was because she like the school, or if she was just glad to get away from Mom and Dad, I'm not sure," Rodney said.

"Hmm... and at weekends the girls sneak into the town to meet boys," Elizabeth said.

"How do you know that?" Rodney asked.

"I went there for three years," Elizabeth said.

"I never knew that," Rodney said.

"It's on my CV Rodney," Elizabeth said.

"Oh. Well, clearly it wasn't important information for me to retain," Rodney said.

Elizabeth rolled her eyes. "Clearly not"

*~*~*~*~*

"I hope this school is easier than the application," Piper said, twisting the pen between her fingers.

"Oh come on sweetheart, you can do this," Elizabeth encouraged. "What's the next question?"

"What do you think, is the single most important achievement of the 20th century," Piper said.

"Hmm... well there was the obvious things of course, the moon landing, Radar, Penicillin, Electron Microscope," Rodney said.

"Don't forget bra's," Elizabeth added. Rodney blushed.

"What do you think Dad?" Piper asked.

"I think, they want to know what you think," John said.

"I think it was... television," Piper said.

"Sweetheart, I don't think the worlds been changed by repeats of Dynasty," Elizabeth said.

"No, it's just that, television lets us know, what's going on in the world, right when it happens," Piper said. "Imagine if we'd had TV when Columbus discovered America."

"Yes..." Rodney said. "I can, I saw, I appeared on Oprah."

"I think Columbus would have been more of a David Letterman kinda guy," John said.

"Okay, next question," Rodney said.

"Oh I hope it's not another essay," Piper said.

"Describe yourself in one word," Rodney said.

"Is it multiple choice?" Madison asked.

"Oh that's a tough one," Piper chewed her nail absently.

"Pi, you don't have to do this if you don't want to," John said. "No one's putting any pressure on you. Well except Rodney and Elizabeth."

"We're just helping," Rodney defended.

"Well if she's gonna do it, she should do it, on her own," John said.

"Okay," Piper sighed. "Lets see, me in one word."

"Spontaneous," Elizabeth said.

"Reliable," Rodney said.

"Loveable," Elizabeth said.

"Dependable," Rodney said.

"Oi, what happened to doing it on her own, she's no fool you know," John said.

"Thanks Dad! Great suggestion, no fool," Piper said.

"That's two words," Madison said.

Piper shrugged. "So, I'll hyphenate."

"Next... Fathers Occupation," Piper paused. "What shall I put?"

"You put housekeeper, that's what I am. And if that's not good enough for them, maybe you don't belong there," John said, heading out of the kitchen.

"Okay, housekeeper... and ex-air force pilot and medal of honour winner," Piper smirked.

*~*~*~*~*
"St Hilda's College for young ladies, a unique environment, fostering academic excellence, and featuring the finest sports facilities. A place where your daughter can experience the joys of learning, and the bonds of friendship, all under the watchful eye of our headmistress, Dorothy Cooper."

"So, what do you think of the fair St Hilda's?" Rodney asked.

"Well, it has all the advantages, I've never seen dorms with room service before," John said.

"Jeannie use to keep all the little mints and give them to me on school holidays," Rodney said.

"Hmm. There's Piper, guess she made it through the inquisition," John said.

"Interview," Rodney corrected. "How did it go Piper?"

"Great. Mrs. Cooper loves Basketball," Piper said.

"Great Piper," John said, smiling tightly.

"Rodney McKay," a woman in her late fifties approached.

"Mrs Cooper," Rodney smiled.

"Well, I didn't expect to see you here," Mrs Cooper said. "How's Jeannie?"

Rodney frowned. "My sister passed away a few years ago."

"Oh I am sorry, I hadn't heard," Mrs Cooper said.

"Thank you," Rodney said. "I'm sorry, how rude. This is John Sheppard."

"Oh of course, Piper's father. You have a delightful daughter," Mrs Cooper said.

"Well, we like her," John said.

"She's bright, she's articulate and I hear she's a first class point guard," Mrs Cooper said.

"Oh yeah, her ball control is marvellous," John agrees. "Had to be in Denver, if you didn't move fast enough someone would steal the ball."

"You know, someone from Piper's background could easily be overlooked," Mrs Cooper said. "But I think she has an excellent chance, thanks to Rodney's efforts."

"Rodney's efforts," John said.

"It was nothing. I just made a phone call," Rodney said.

"To every member of staff," Mrs Cooper said. "I'm going to send her application straight over to the scholarship board. I may be a little premature in saying this, but I think you've got yourself a St Hilda's Girl."

John gave Rodney a look. "So you phoned the school."

"Well you don't have to thank me," Rodney said.

"That's okay, because I wasn't going to," John said.

"John, am I picking up negative vibes here," Rodney said.

"Look I don't like this school and I don't want Piper coming here," John said.

"Why," Rodney said.

"I just think you better stop sticking your nose in other peoples business," John said.

"I'm only trying to help," Rodney said.

"Well who asked you," John said.

"I did," Piper said, looking annoyed as she approached from behind.

*~*~*~*~*

"Pawn to Queens Bishop three," Madison said, moving her piece on the board.

"Hmm..." Elizabeth pondered. "Knight from this white square, to this black one here."

Elizabeth and Madison both looked up as Rodney, John and Piper came in. All three looking equally sour faced.

"Hello. So how was the open day?" Elizabeth asked.

"It was open and it was a day, alright," Piper said, pulling her coat off.

"Okay..." Elizabeth said. "Did everyone else have fun too."

"Well I'm going to bed," Piper rested her hand on the edge of the couch. "Goodnight Elizabeth, Goodnight Madison, Goodnight Rodney."

"Oi!" John said, as Piper cleared the first two stairs. "Aren't you forgetting something?"

"Well, I suppose I can forget about St Hilda's," Piper said.

Rodney gave John a 'ha!' look. "What does she mean?" Elizabeth asked. "Why?"

"Maddie, I think it's time you went to bed too," Rodney said.

"But I can't," Madison complained. "I've got to finish this game of chess."

Rodney glanced at the board and leaned down to move the white Queen. "Checkmate. Congratulations Madison, goodnight."

"Hey what is this tag chess," Elizabeth grumbled.

"You loose, goodnight," Madison said.

Elizabeth chuckled. "Well everyone knows that Chess is just a game of chance."

Madison trampled up the stairs, muttering "yeah, yeah, yeah."

"Well what happened, what went wrong?" Elizabeth asked.

Rodney and John glared at each other across the room. John from his place at the window and Rodney from Madison's newly vacated spot on the couch.

"If we're going to play charades, can I have a hint?" Elizabeth asked.

"I'll give you a hint," John said. "Sounds like Dodney. She'd have forgotten all about that school if you hadn't just kept pushing it."

"Me! Shannon is the reason she's so excited about that school," Rodney said.

"Oh nice Rodney, blame it on an innocent child," John said.

"Blame what! I don't understand what you're problem is. Piper is going to a decent school that she really wants to go to," Rodney said.

"Yeah," John said. "And it's all your fault."

Rodney sat down arms folded over his chest huffily as John stormed into the kitchen.

"You know, I could be wrong, but I get the feeling he doesn't want her to go to St. Hilda's.

"Oh I know that Elizabeth, but I can't for the life of me figure out why," Rodney said.

"Well what happened up there?" Elizabeth asked.

"It was a fairly decent open day. I mean, as schools go, St. Hilda's is a decent educational facility," Rodney said. "There was your normal slide shows and those little finger sandwiches..."

"Rodney, I meant with John," Elizabeth said.

"Well he seemed a little uncomfortable, but he's not applying, Piper is and she seemed to fit right in," Rodney said.

Elizabeth considered for a moment. "Maybe he's afraid."

"Of what?" Rodney asked.

"That Piper will turn out like you," Elizabeth suggested.

"Charming," Rodney snorted.

"What I mean is, someone like you, someone not like him," Elizabeth said. "Someone who would fit into St Hilda's, someone more comfortable with the stock market, than the supermarket."

Rodney thought about it. "Yes I suppose you're right, John is afraid she'll outgrow him. Oh how can I have been so dense."

"Years of practice," Elizabeth said. Rodney glared.

*~*~*~*~*

"John..." Rodney entered the kitchen cautiously. "John... John you're cleaning the soap."

"She didn't even say goodnight to me, she always says goodnight to me, even when she had the mumps, she said, goodnight dad," John said.

"John, I know exactly how your feeling," Rodney said.

John snorted. "Oh do you now."

"Yes, Elizabeth explained it all to me. You see, you grew up in big cities and on Air Force bases..." Rodney said.

"What did you forget that part?" John asked sarcastically.

"And you use to hang around with the blokes on the street... and when you pictured Piper growing up, you didn't picture her going off to boarding school and university, having a career..." Rodney said.

"You can say that again," John said, sitting down at the table.

"You pictured her more... like you," Rodney said.

"Yeah, but without the hairy chest," John agreed.

"Maybe I was a little too pushy. It's just, sometimes I forget that Piper is you're kid. I guess I have my own dreams for her too." Rodney admitted.

"You'd like her too turn out more like you," John said.

"Well more like Jeannie maybe... she had the people skills thing down," Rodney said.

John snorted. "I'd be proud of Piper if she turned out like you... with people skills. You're great. Smart and stuff... The only reason I took this job was to get Piper a better start, a better education and now she's got a chance to go to one of the best school's in the country."

"Then what's the problem," Rodney asked.

"St. Hilda's is so..." John struggled for words.

"Expensive?" Rodney said.

"No." John said.

"Snobby?" Rodney said.

"No." John said. "St. Hilda's is so... far away."

"Oh. You're going to miss her," Rodney suddenly caught on.

John nodded. "Yeah."

*~*~*~*~*

John knocked on Piper's door. "Pi."

Piper lay still on her bed, while John trampled around trying to make noise, before going over to give her a kiss. He was on his way out the door when he trip, biting his lip so he didn't make any sound.

"Go ahead and scream Dad, I'm awake, "Piper sat up.

"Ow!" John said, standing up.

"Feel better now?" Piper asked.

"Yeah," John nodded. "Pi listen about St. Hilda's I really am, it's just... I never wanted to be one of those parents who just bundles their kids off to school, I mean, what if you get lonely."

"Shannon will be there," Piper said.

"Yeah but what if you get sick?" John asked. "Who's gonna take care of you."

"Matron," Piper said.

"Well, yeah... she could do it, but well, I kinda think of that as my job. You're my little girl," John held her hands. "You're always gonna be my little girl. When you're an old woman, you'll be my little girl."

Piper sighed. "And wherever I am, you'll always be my dad." John hugged her close. "This is nice hey," Piper said.

"Yeah," John agreed.

"But does this mean I can or can't go away to school?" Piper asked.

"Well, we'll see," John said, giving her a kiss on the cheek. "Yeah... I supposed you can. But you'll have to write. And Phone home a lot."

"Hey, if anyone knows how to use the phone..." Piper smiled.

"And I'm gonna visit, a lot. Maybe every weekend," John said.

"I know," Piper said.

"I'm gonna make a real nuisance of myself," John said.

"I know that too," Piper laughed.

"And I want you to get great grades, so you can go to whatever university you want, be anything you want. Go right to the top," John said. "Be rich and famous, be a real star."

"Dad, this is boarding school, not opportunity knocks," Piper said.

"Yeah alright. Now go to sleep," John said.

"Alright," Piper leaned over to turn of her lamp. "Dad..."

John stopped at the door. "Yeah?"

"Goodnight."

*~*~*~*~*

Madison's school started back, August first, so John called ahead to make an appointment with her teacher. Piper was still nervously waiting for word from St Hilda's, while John tried to be supportive.

He still wasn't thrilled with the idea of having his little girl away from him all those months. Even if it was only a three hour drive, that was still more distance than John was comfortable with over an extended period. Still, one child at a time and first he had to deal with Madison, there still wasn't any guarantee Piper had even gotten in to St. Hilda's.

"Mr. Sheppard, I'm Miss Temple, Madison's teacher, I understand you're Doctor McKay's housekeeper," the teacher was young, pretty, blonde. John thought she'd be exactly Rodney's type, maybe he should have sent him instead.

"Yeah. Thanks for seeing me," John smiled.

"Oh course, it's a pity Doctor McKay couldn't make it himself," Miss Temple said.

"He's at work during the day, he doesn't get home until about 6.30," John said.

"I see," Miss Temple said in a way that John suspected meant she thought Rodney was somehow an uncaring guardian.

"But, he asked me to come and speak to you about Madison. My daughter Piper and Madison are fairly close, but Piper is moving into high school and with Madison still so young and no other suitable children living along our road, Rodney wanted to find out what friends Madison has at school, so he could arrange some time for her to spend with them at home as well. She's a bright kid, but Rodney doesn't want her to spend all her time with her head stuck in books," John put everything, from Rodney, purposefully neglecting his own opinions. After all, he was just the messenger.

"Well, I'm afraid that may prove troublesome. Madison doesn't really socialise well with the other children, something I was planning to bring to Doctor McKay's attention at the next parents night," Miss Temple said.

"I see, she's not being bullied is she?" John asked.

"No, no, nothing like that. But Madison seems more interest in reading than taking part in team activities. I was hoping to encourage her to join one of the school teams, but she doesn't seem very interested," Miss Temple said.

"Madison has never really had anyone to play sports with at home, but I know she has an interest, perhaps if you have any specific team in mind, I could teach her a few of the rules, so she doesn't feel as unsure coming in," John said.

"Well with it being the beginning of a new school term, all the teams will be picked fresh, so it's really a matter of what Madison would like to do, we have softball, soccer and dance available to the girls," Miss Temple said.

"I'll let Rodney know and he and Madison can discuss it," John said. "Thank you for you're time."

"Not at all, perhaps next time, Doctor McKay will be able to arrange a time to come himself," Mrs Temple said.

"I'm sure if he can possibly find a way, he will," John said.

*~*~*~*~*

"No friends?" Rodney said. "Is someone picking on her?"

"No. At least not as far as the teacher can tell. She just feel Madison would benefit from taking part in some of the schools extra curricular activities. Softball, Soccer or Dance," John said.

Rodney frowned. "Well... if they had extra curricular activities for children with brains, maybe she would take part."

"Rodney, if that's the sort of attitude Madison picks up from you, it's no wonder she's having trouble socialising. I was thinking I'd teach her how to play soccer, let her try out for the team. It's an easy sport for her to pick up and Piper can play too, until Madison starts making other friends and then she'll have something to do with them," John said.

"Very well," Rodney said, like it was the worst idea ever.

"If you've got any other ideas I'm open," John said.

"You could always flirt with some of the desperate housewives, I bet they wouldn't turn down your invitation to play dates," Rodney said.

John snorted. "Nice to know you're willing to sell my body for sex."

"Don't be ridiculous, you can't have sex while the kids are about, just a little harmless flirting. It's not like you haven't had practice," Rodney said.

"Feeling the love, really. Way to make a guy feel respected and needed," John said.

Rodney snorted. "Oh you poor thing. Fine, teach Madison soccer, or softball, or the waltz, whatever works for you."

"Actually, Tango has always been more my dance," John said.

"Oh my God, is there anything you can't do?" Rodney asked.

"Nothing I'm telling you about," John said, chuckling.

*~*~*~*~*

"So what do you think Maddie?" John asked.

"Soccer? Really?" Madison asked, crinkling up her face.

"Well, it's that or softball. I really can't help you much with dance," John said.

"But why do I have to join a team?" Madison asked.

"Maddie, we just think it would be good for you to make some new friends," Elizabeth said. Rodney completely refused to help, so John had enlisted Elizabeth's help.

"I don't need friends. They're all idiots," Madison said.

"Maddie. We talked about this, you can't go calling your school mates idiots," John chastised.

"No, you really can't," Rodney interrupted. John gave him a quizzical look, but didn't comment.

"Uncle Rodney..." Madison whined.

"Madison... it's not nice to call people idiots," Rodney said.

"You do it," Madison said.

"And I am the worst possible role model for social skills in the history off ever," Rodney said.

"But..." Madison whined.

"Maddie, honey... you need to start spending time with kids off your own age," Rodney said.

"But I'm smarter than all of them," Madison complained.

"That doesn't mean you're better than them Maddie," John said.

Madison frowned. "Fine, I'll learn to play stupid soccer. But I won't like it."

John chuckled. "If you don't like it, we'll find something else you do like."

"Do I really have to do this Uncle Rodney?" Madison pleaded.

"Yeah Maddie, you really do," Rodney said. Madison grumbled and went up stairs in a huff.

"Well, that went well," John said.

"Really, I wasn't getting that," Rodney snapped.

"It'll be fine Rodney, you'll see," John smiled in assurance. Rodney just grunted.

*~*~*~*~*

"Where is the postman," Piper said. "He should be here by now."

"Maybe Mrs. Wilkinson is getting a special delivery," Elizabeth suggested with a smirk.

Madison looked confused. "What sort of special delivery?"

"A nothing special Maddie, I think she said she was getting a new vacuum this week," John gave Elizabeth a look.

"Well that's not very special," Madison frowned.

"She really likes doing housework," Elizabeth said.

"So does John, but he didn't get excited when Uncle Rodney bought him a new vacuum," Madison said.

"If he'd brought me a new dishwasher I'd have gotten very excited," John promises.

The knock on the door didn't come soon enough. "Lets see... bill, bill, bill... letters from St. Hilda's, bill..." John looked through them.

"Dad! Let me see!" Piper said, grabbing the brown envelope.

"It's a thick envelope, that's a good sign, that mean forms and broachers. It only takes one sheet of paper to say no," Elizabeth said.

Piper ripped open the envelope. "Dear Mr. Sheppard, We are happy to..."

All of them cheered. "What did I tell you, fat envelops never lie," Elizabeth said.

"Oh this is excellent, isn't it John," Rodney looked at him pointedly.

"Are you kidding, this is great. I'm so proud of you Pi, you wanted something, you went for it and you got it," John hugged her. "Well, Champagne all around."

"I'll be right back, I've just gotta call Shannon," Piper dashed upstairs.

"Things won't be the same here when Piper goes away to school," Madison said a little forlornly.

"Oh Maddie, you're going to miss her," Rodney said.

"Yeah." Madison said. "Can I have her room?" Rodney laughed.

John pulled a bottle of Champagne and two soda's from the fridge, just as Rodney came in.

"Are you okay?" Rodney asked.

"Well, going into the fridge is pretty hairy, but I think I managed it," John said.

"You know what I meant," Rodney said.

"Yeah, I do," John said.

"I thought you did pretty well out there. You are going to miss her, but you didn't let it show and she's really happy," Rodney said.

"Yeah. That's all I ever really wanted," John said.

"Dad, can I talk to you..." Piper said, coming in looking nervous.

"Sure," John said.

"I'll take that out," Rodney took the tray.

"What's up sweetheart?" John asked, sitting down at the table across from Piper.

"You know Dad, I've been thinking," Piper said.

"They'll love that at St. Hilda's," John said.

"Yeah. About St. Hilda's, you know it's really miles away," Piper said.

"Yeah," John nodded. "But you're gonna keep in touch right."

"Yeah, but it's not gonna be the same," Piper said. "I mean, I've never really been away from home before."

"Oh come on Pi, you stay at Shannon's all the time," John said.

"Yeah, but that's just around the corner, I don't think I'm ready for this. I mean I'm only thirteen," Piper said.

"Wait a minute," John said. "Are you telling me you don't want to go to St Hilda's?"

"Maybe not this year..." Piper said. "I'd miss you too much."

John leaned across and kissed Piper on the cheek. "So... Shannon didn't get in then."
Family Ties by kez
"Miller is approaching the net, Sheppard's got it covered, but is he good enough..." Piper sat off to the side, 'commentating' as Madison and John played soccer. "No he isn't... Miller shoots and she scores. Sheppard fails again. He should just go hide under a rock now..."

"Oi! If you think you're so good, you're next in goal," John said.

"Well I can't do much worse than you are," Piper said.

John threw gloves at her. "We'll see..."

John was very impressed with how quickly Madison had picked the game up and once she started to get comfortable, she started having more fun.

Piper got ready in goal, Madison, kicking the ball about between her feet and before Piper was even ready, she kicked it towards the net.

"She shoots, she scores," John shouted.

"Not fair, I wasn't ready," Piper said.

"If at first you don't succeed..." John smirked, sitting down to watch Madison score time after time, until finally Piper saved one.

John laughed as Piper bounced around. "Alright girls, time to clean up for dinner."

"Can we just try a few more..." Piper whined.

"You can pass for a few more minutes while I get dinner started, then I want you in," John said.

"Sure Dad," Piper agreed, Madison nodding behind her.

*~*~*~*~*

John washed his hands, before he started chopping vegetables, half watching out the window as Madison and Piper kicked the ball between them.

"Where are the kids?" Rodney asked.

"Nice to see you too Rodney," John chuckled.

"Yes, yes, the pleasure is all mine, where is Madison?" Rodney asked.

"She's playing ball with Piper out the back, why?" John asked.

"I bought her something," Rodney said.

"Well, do you think it could wait 'til after dinner," John said.

Rodney pouted, almost worse than a child. "I suppose so."

John laughed. "Laura called. She wanted to know if we were free for dinner next weekend. Said she tried to catch you at work, but you were hiding in your lab."

"I was not hiding in my lab, I had an important experiment going on. Besides, Zelenka offered to take a message. Why are we being summonsed to dinner?" Rodney asked.

"Sometimes, friends do things together McKay, share meals and stuff. A foreign concept I know," John said.

"What did you tell her?" Rodney asked.

"I said yes, we'd be delighted to go," John said.

"What? Why? I could be busy..." Rodney said.

"Are you?" John asked.

"Well no, not yet, but..." Rodney frowned.

"Well then, no reason not to go," John smirked. Rodney huffed.

*~*~*~*~*

"What's this?" Madison asked, when Rodney handed her the plain grey bag.

"Well, if you open it, you'll see," Rodney said.

Madison looked at him oddly, digging into the bag. The T-shirt was in sky blue and white, 'Miller' in bold writing across the back above the letter 7. White shorts matched it, with a 7 stitched in to the left leg.

"If you're going to play, you need a decent kit," Rodney said.

"It's great!" Madison flung herself into his arms.

"Oof," Rodney said. "Yes okay... it's very nice."

"Can I go try it on?" Madison asked.

"If you want," Rodney said.

Madison grinned and quickly disappeared up the stairs, Piper behind her.

"That was a nice thing to do Rodney," John said.

"If she's going to insist in taking part in these ridiculous activities, she should have the proper equipment," Rodney said.

"Yeah. It was a still a nice thing to do," John said. Rodney made a vague, dismissive noise.

"How do I look?" Madison came bounding down the stairs again, after what had to be the quickest change in history.

"You look great Maddie. Ready to kick some serious ball," John said.

"Can we play some more tonight?" Madison asked.

John chuckled. "Not tonight Maddie, we'll play tomorrow okay."

"Kay. What about you uncle Rodney, do you look okay?" Madison asked.

"You look fine," Rodney said. "Very professional."

Madison grinned. "Thanks Uncle Rodney," he said, giving him a kiss on the cheek. "I'm gonna take it off so it doesn't get dirty or wrinkled."

"You two might as well get your pyjama's on," John said.

"But Dad..." Piper whined.

"Pyjama's now, bed in an hour," John said.

Piper pouted. She was really getting too damn good at that.

*~*~*~*~*

"I made the team!" Madison bounced delighted.

John grinned. "That's great Maddie, way to go!"

"Can I call Uncle Rodney and tell him?" Madison asked.

"You know he doesn't like to be disturbed at work M&M, lets leave it 'til he comes home, okay?" John said.

"Okay. Can I go practice?" Madison asked.

"After you've done your homework," John said.

"Dad, can I do my homework after dinner? I have science tonight and I wanted Rodney to help me," Piper asked.

"No, you can try it and if you still have trouble, then you can ask Rodney for some help," John said.

"But Dad..." Piper said.

"No. You need to try yourself first," John said. It wasn't that he minded Piper asked for help, but she needed to try for herself first or how would she ever learn.

Piper sulkily opened her books. Teenagers. John wondered if being around Piper so much the teenager was rubbing off on Madison, she sat, books open, looking just as sulky as Piper.

*~*~*~*~*

John had to admit, Rodney was being pretty good about being happy and encouraging Madison in Soccer, but there was nothing in the world that was going to convince him to attend her first game. Sitting among a bunch of parents cheering on sports and snipping at each other about who was the better player, was not Rodney's idea of fun.

Piper and John sat in the stands, cheering the school team, especially when Madison was on the field. At half time, Madison came running over, bouncing with delight at the two goals she'd already scored. "Did you see, did you see!"

"You're doing really great Maddie," John smiled, snapping another photograph for Rodney.

"She is pretty good..." Piper said, once Madison had returned to her team mates.

John smiled. Piper alternated between teenage moodiness and childish glee at the drop of a hat and when Madison scored again, Piper was off her seat shouting with glee.

John watched Madison control the ball, skirting past two of the other players, before a third came along and kicked the ball right out from under her, making her loose her footing. Without even waiting for the whistle to blow, John was on the field.

Madison had tears streaming down her face, her right arm held tightly against her. "Maddie honey, let me see," John said.

"It's sore," Madison said, holding it tight.

"I know, but I need to have a look," John said, taking it gently.

"I think we'd better take you to the ER, get it x-rayed," John said.

"But the game..." Madison complained.

"You're Uncle's right Madison, you need to see a proper Doctor," her coach said.

"He's not my uncle, he's my housekeeper," Madison said.

"Oh. My mistake," the coach said.

"Come on M&M, lets get you up okay and then we'll give Rodney a call from the hospital," John helped her up.

"Please call and let us know she's okay," the coach said.

"Sure thing," John said, telling Piper to go get Madison's bag, while he got her into the car.

*~*~*~*~*

The ER was quiet, only a few other people waiting to be seen, but it still felt like forever before the Doctor called Madison's name.

"And you are?" the Doctor asked.

"I'm John Sheppard, I work for her Uncle, he's at work at the moment. I've left a message for him," John said.

"I see," the Doctor said. "I have some consent forms here that need to be signed. But we'll take her on through to x-ray in the mean time."

"Thanks," John said.

"John..."

"It's okay Maddie, the Doc's gonna take a picture of your arm..." John said.

"I know what an x-ray is," Madison said.

John chuckled. "Of course you do."

"It won't hurt will it?" Madison asked.

"No sweetie, won't hurt a bit," John said.

"Okay..." Madison said, as the nurse came to get her.

"If you'd just wait here Mr. Sheppard," the nurse said.

"Piper, wait here, I'm going to try calling Rodney again," John said.

"Doctor McKay's office," Elizabeth answered.

"Elizabeth, it's John. Is Rodney there?" John asked.

"No, he's in his lab. What's up?" Elizabeth asked.

"I left a message before. Maddie's hurt her arm, we're at the ER," John said.

"Oh dear, is it serious?" Elizabeth asked.

"Probably not. At worst she's broken it, they're giving her an x-ray now. But they want Rodney here to sign consent forms," John said.

"I'll hunt him down and send him over right now," Elizabeth promised.

"Thanks. And Elizabeth..."

"Yes?"

"Could you ply him with valium first?" John asked.

Elizabeth laughed. John wasn't sure he was joking. Rodney was going to kill him.

*~*~*~*~*

"Where is she?" Rodney demanded, storming in.

"She's getting her arm plastered. It's a clean break, Doctor says it should heal just fine," John said.

"Break? It's broken?! How the hell did that happen?" Rodney demanded.

"She got tripped on the field, she's fine Rodney," John said easily.

"She's got a broken arm, that is not fine!" Rodney said.

"She'll break more bones before she's 80," John said.

"Well she's managed to do just fine without breaking any up until now!" Rodney said.

"Kids get hurt when they are playing sometimes, it happens," John said.

"Well if you hadn't wanted her to learn to play stupid soccer, it wouldn't have," Rodney said.

John tensed. "Since she started playing, Madison has been making new friends, she's been a lot happier."

"And I'm sure breaking her arm was a really happy moment for her," Rodney said.

"I am not discussing this here," John said, noticing the attention they were attracting.

Rodney looked around, flushed and bit his tongue to keep from saying anything. "I'm going to find a cup of coffee and someone who can tell me what's going on," Rodney said.

"There is paperwork waiting for you at reception, they can fill you in there," John said. Rodney glared at him, before he stormed off.

"I guess Rodney is mad..." Piper said cautiously. John sat down and shrugged. When she was right, she was right.

*~*~*~*~*

"Maddie honey, why don't you go upstairs and lay down, I'll bring you up some soup up," John suggested, when they got home.

"I'll come up and keep you company," Piper offered.

"Can I have chicken soup?" Madison asked.

"Sure M&M. Chicken soup coming up," John said.

Madison nodded quietly. She hadn't said much since she'd come out after getting her arm plastered. Rodney still looked furious and even being separate cars John could almost feel the cloud that was Rodney following him.

Rodney followed him into the kitchen, standing impatiently while John pulled soup from the fridge and started to heat it up.

"Rodney, Madison will be fine," John said.

"She broke her arm," Rodney said.

"She's a kid Rodney, accidents happen, you can't wrap her in cotton wool," John said.

Rodney frowned. "If she hadn't been playing soccer..."

"She would have fallen off her bike, or tripped in gym class," John said. "In a few weeks, she'll be fine."

"I..." Rodney sighed. Caught between fury and concern. Madison was his responsibility; he was supposed to take care of her.

"Rodney... go up stairs, give her a cuddle and sign her cast," John said.

Rodney frowned. "Sign her cast?"

"It's a kid thing, trust me. Everyone in her class will have signed it by end of day Monday," John said.

"Why?" Rodney asked.

John shrugged. "Hell if I know."

*~*~*~*~*

The next night, they headed over to Laura's and Carson's for dinner. John helped Carson with dinner, while Laura, Rodney and the girls played in the living room.

"You know, from what Laura told me, Rodney was a work-a-holic, how did you train him?" Carson asked.

John chuckled. "I wasn't aware I had."

"Well he's in there playing board games, instead of buried in a stack of work," Carson said.

John shrugged. There was really no answer for that.

"You two old maids aren't gossiping are you?" Laura said.

"Would we do a thing like that, love?" Carson asked.

Laura laughed. "Well you would."

"Aye, well maybe I would..." Carson said, leaning down to give her a kiss.

"Awww, young love," John said.

"Jealously doesn't become you John," Laura laughed.

"Right, weren't you playing games?" John said.

"Hmm. Rodney keeps winning," Laura said.

"You should try playing poker, Rodney can't play poker for love 'nor money. Even Maddie can beat him," John said.

"Rodney plays poker? I don't think I ever saw him lift a deck of cards when we were married," Laura said.

"Well I didn't say he could play it well," John said. "But he tries bless him."

Laura laughed. "I'll keep that in mind."

"Dinner will be ready in a few minutes love, if you want to get everyone seated," Carson said.

"Sure," Laura said.

"You two still in the honeymoon phase huh," John laughed.

"I'm not sure I'll ever get out of that phase," Carson said.

*~*~*~*~*

Dinner was a talkative affair, the girls giggling with Laura, while the blokes chatted amongst themselves and tried to stay out of the girl's line of sight.

"So um... we actually asked you to come tonight for a reason," Laura said, after they'd cleared away the dishes.

"Oh?" Rodney said, like he clearly had been expecting something.

"Aye... well we have some news, we'd like to share with you all," Carson said.

"I'm pregnant," Laura said.

Rodney looked flabbergasted. The girls both squealed with delight. John smiled easily and offered his congratulations over the girls million miles a minute questions.

"Rodney..." Laura said, giving her ex-husband a concentrated look.

"Congratulations," Rodney offered with quiet ferocity, pulling her into a tight hug.

Laura sagged with relief. "Thank you."

"Well, this calls for a toast," John said. "To Laura and Carson."

*~*~*~*~*

"So that was a shock," John said, when they were alone at home, later that evening.

"Yeah, I'll say," Rodney agreed.

"You okay?" John asked.

"Why wouldn't I be?" Rodney asked.

"I don't know, you're ex-wife is having a baby... seems like something that might bother you," John shrugged.

"Laura and I never talked about kids," Rodney said.

"No?" John wasn't sure why that surprised him. Rodney and kids were... well he wasn't exactly child friendly, he was learning, but he couldn't be called comfortable with them.

"I was too busy with my career. Laura was busy with her own. I guess we always thought we'd get around to it, when the time was right, but it never was," Rodney said. "But I'm happy for her."

"On the plus side... we get to be uncles. We get to buy presents and take the kid to the fair... but we never have to change diapers or stay up all night," John laughed.

"Oh I hate changing diapers. Jeannie use to make me do it with Maddie. I sucked at it," Rodney said.

"That I'll believe," John said.

"You have no idea really... I put it on backwards the first time. I didn't even know it was possible to put them on backwards," Rodney said.

"Jen made me practice on a doll before she had Piper," John said.

"Let me guess, you were a natural," Rodney said.

"Are you kidding? I was terrible," John said. "Trust me, I needed the practice."

Rodney looked surprised. "Really, you seem so good with kids?"

"Sure, Jen use to say I was just a big kid myself," John said.

"You still are," Rodney said.

John laughed. "Yeah, probably true."

"I would have liked kids of my own... but I don't think that's likely now," Rodney said.

"You're still young enough," John said.

Rodney snorted. "Yes, but who would have them with me. A middle age scientist, who's loosing his hair and carrying a little extra padding."

"You've lost some weight," John said. "If you'd actually run with me more than once a month, you might even loose some more."

"Or I could volunteer for torture," Rodney said.

John laughed. "I don't torture... I encourage vigorously."

*~*~*~*~*

Thanksgiving was on top of them and John convinced Rodney to invite Laura and Carson around, with the deal that John would do all the cooking and entertaining. Like there was any question in that anyway.

John got up early to start preparing food, all the little snacks and bits that Jen use to make every year. Last year, Thanksgiving had been a quite affair, but John was looking forward to this. He'd always loved the holiday, not so much the history but the family feeling, community. On the bases growing up, his mother and her friends would get together, a big communal meal. It was the one day of the year, John didn't really feel lonely. And Jen was the same, come one, come all invitations, food 'til they were stuffed.

"It's six-thirty, what are you doing?" Rodney asked.

"Food," John said.

"Didn't you do some of it last night?" Rodney asked.

"Yeah, but there's more to do," John said.

"Are we feeding the five thousand?" Rodney asked.

John laughed. "Not quite."

"Well you could have fooled me," Rodney said.

"It's Thanksgiving Rodney," John said.

"Hmm..." Rodney picked up a cracker, stuffing it in his mouth. "Well, it's not a completely useless American holiday, although I don't know where you plan to put all this."

"I don't think that's going to be a problem," John said, smirking as Rodney stuffed another cracker in his mouth.

Rodney snorted. "Since I'm awake, can I help with anything?"

"You're offering to cook?" John said.

"Well, if you don't want the help..." Rodney said.

John laughed. "I didn't say that. You can chop some of those," John pointed to the vegetables on the table.

Rodney poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down, to started on carrots. "If I cut my fingers off, you're going to pay for it."

John chuckled. "I promise, I'll kiss them all better."

*~*~*~*~*

The girls were awake and creating havoc before nine, scoffing down breakfast, before they went outside to start kicking the ball around. Evan Madison's plaster cast wasn't keeping her off the pitch.

It was the girls squealing that gave away Laura and Carson's arrival, just after eleven.

"Hey," John hugged Laura, shaking Carson's hand.

"Oh my God, how did you make Rodney chop vegetables?" Laura said.

"He offered," John said.

"Offered? Did you check under the bed for a pod?" she asked.

"I check once a week," John said, laughing.

"Hey! I can be helpful!" Rodney said.

John sniggered. "Of course you can Rodney."

"We brought a few things, we couldn't decide what type of pie, so we brought several choices," Laura said, holding up a string tied stack of pie boxes.

"Five, we'll be full until Christmas," John said.

"Speak for yourself wafe, what did you bring?" Rodney asked with delight.

"This morning you were complaining there was too much food," John said.

"But this is pie!" Rodney said. Laura and John shared a look and laughed.

"Well we've got cheery, pumpkin, pecan, blueberry and apple," Laura said.

"My mum's apple pie," Carson said.

"Where is she spending the holiday?" John asked.

"Oh mum's gone home to Scotland for a few weeks, my aunt and uncle's Golden Wedding Anniversary is next week," Carson said. "She sent her thanks for the invitation though."

"She's always welcome," John smiled easily.

"Auntie Laura, come play with us," Madison said.

"And why would I do that?" Laura asked.

"Because it's fun," Madison said.

"Go on Laura, let us men folk alone to do the important stuff," John said, laughing.

"Well, since I'm not wanted here..." Laura said, letting herself to dragged outside again by Madison.

"Another half hour Maddie, then I want you in, it's cold out there today," John said.

"Yes John!" Madison shouted, already closing the door behind her.

John chuckled. "Kids. Just think what you've got to look forward too."

"Aye," Carson said. "Well if it's a wee lass, Laura can deal with the stroppy teenage years."

"Wise man," Rodney said.

"Yeah, cause Laura's gonna let him get away with it," John said.

Rodney considered it for a moment and shuddered. "Good point."

*~*~*~*~*

"I don't think I'll ever move again," John said.

Rodney nodded, taking another bite of the cherry pie in front of him. "I'm stuffed."

"I can see that," John said.

"Well... it shouldn't go to waste," Rodney defended.

John smirked. "Of course not Rodney."

"She's still eating," Rodney pointed at Laura, munching on a piece of apple pie.

"I'm pregnant," Laura said.

"And I have hypoglycaemia, that's a medical condition too, just as your husband," Rodney said.

"I doubt it's gonna kill ya if you have one less bite of pie," Carson said.

Rodney huffed and speared another piece of pie defiantly. John chuckled.

"Dad, can we go watch TV?" Piper asked.

"Sure Pi," John nodded.

"Can I go Dad," Laura asked, smirking.

"If you promise to be good," John said, laughing.

"I'm always good," Laura said.

"You know, I'm not sure if I should envy you, or question your sanity," John said to Carson when Laura had followed the girls into the living room.

Carson laughed. "Some days, I ain't sure either."

*~*~*~*~*

By the end of the day, John was exhausted. Laura and Carson left, the girls went to bed and John flopped onto the sofa.

"I am so tired," Rodney said.

"Hmm... exhausted," John agreed. "But today was fun."

"It was, wasn't it," Rodney said.

"We should do it more often," John said.

Rodney nodded thoughtfully, half dozing. "As long as there's pie involved."
'Tis The Season by kez
John hummed along with the soft Christmas music playing in the background, as he wrapped the last few presents. Rodney grumbled along beside him, as he struggled with the last of Madison's gifts.

"Rodney, you're supposed to wrap it, not strangle it," John said.

"Well it's oddly shaped," Rodney said.

"It's a square box," John chuckled.

Rodney huffed. "I always liked triangles better."

John laughed. "Give it here, I'll finish it off, why don't you fill the stockings. All the little stocking fillers are in that box."

Rodney handed over the gift with an almost audible sigh of relief. "We're going to need a second house for all this stuff."

"Naw, a thirty-five hundred ft extension aught to do it," John said.

"Is that all," Rodney said.

John shrugged. "It's Christmas Rodney."

"I know. I like Christmas. But Piper and Madison probably won't even use half this stuff," Rodney said.

"What they don't use, you can eat after you've finished off all the pie," John said. Rodney glared.

*~*~*~*~*

Christmas morning always came too soon, for any sane adult's liking. Madison and Piper... who was supposed to know better at her age... were up at the crack of dawn, banging around until John and Rodney dragged themselves out of bed too.

"Come on, come on," Piper said.

"What's the hurry?" John asked, smirking.

"Christmas. Presents. Move it." Piper said.

John laughed. "Okay, okay, since you asked so nicely."

Rodney glared at them all, until John got him coffee and they sat down around the tree.

"Rodney, you want to play Santa?" John asked.

"Not in this lifetime," Rodney said.

John laughed and pulled the first present from under the tree. "To Rodney, from Santa."

Rodney looked over the top of his mug. His expression caught between curiosity and a glare. "Very well, give it here."

Rodney tore open the paper, with as much dignity as his curiosity would allow. "It's..." Rodney looked stunned.

"Wow, you must have been really good this year for Santa to get you that!" Madison exclaimed.

"This is..." Rodney paused. "Well... Thank you Santa."

John smiled. The titanium watch, to replace the watch John had bought him for his birthday, the first year they'd been there. It was something he'd seen Rodney eying, when they'd taken the girls Christmas shopping, but he'd never have bought it for himself, so John had gone back later and gotten it.

"Next..." John said, returning his attention to the tree and the presents. Both Madison and Piper ended up with very respectable piles. With everything from books, toys and clothes, to the newest computer software and a gold pendant.

The last present under the tree had John's name on it, a small plain box, badly wrapped. "It's... keys..."

"Well it wouldn't fit under the tree... the real present is in the garage," Rodney said, looking pleased with himself.

The girls dashed towards the garage before John could even get to his feet. Exclamations of "Wow!" could be heard before John got there, Rodney behind him.

"A jeep..." John said, startled.

"That is so cool!" Piper said.

"It's... Rodney, this is..." John was speechless, you just didn't buy you're housekeeper a jeep, you just didn't.

While John stood shocked, the girls got bored just looking at the jeep.

"Can we go for a drive in it?" Piper asked.

John shook his head. "Not right now Pi. Come on, inside, time for breakfast."

"John..." Rodney said, looking unsure as the girls disappeared back inside.

"This is way too much Rodney, I can't accept this," John said.

"Of course you can, it's a gift," Rodney said.

"It's a car. A gift is a watch, tickets to a game. This is... bigger," John said.

Rodney frowned. "Well... yes but... you don't like it? We can get a different colour or model or..."

"Rodney!" John stopped him. "I like it. It's... it's a really nice jeep but... I can't possibly... I could never afford to get you something like this and it wouldn't be fair too..."

"It's not about the money," Rodney said. "It's... I saw you looking at one in your magazines... and it makes sense, I mean, no offence, that van is... but this is new and safe and you drive Madison around you know... please, it's not about the cost. The watch was... I really like the watch. And it's what I wanted... this is..."

John sighed. "Something I wanted. But Rodney..."

"No. Please...it's a gift, please accept it," Rodney said.

John made a little huffing sound, half a smile on his lips. "Thank you Rodney, it's... she's a real beauty."

"She's gassed up and ready to go... insurance all paid up for a year," Rodney said.

"Thought of everything didn't you," John said.

"Well, I am a genius," Rodney said.

"Come on, we better feed the bears, before they decide to start eating each other," John said.

"More coffee?" Rodney asked.

"You know you drink too much of that stuff," John said.

Rodney snorted. "There is no such thing, as too much coffee!"

*~*~*~*~*

John had to admit, he loved the jeep. She handled like a dream. He preened at the admiring looks people gave him when they saw it, flirted with the female gas station attendant who practically swooned when she saw it. It was a nice feeling, but he still couldn't quiet rationalise getting rid of the van.

It made sense, there wasn't room for three cars and a van. Not if they wanted room for guests to park. Even thought Elizabeth parked down in front of her own bungalow most of the time, there were occasions when she parked in front of the main house and it just didn't make sense to have the van sitting there gathering rust.

Reluctantly, he put an add up in the gas station. Rodney had suggested, without really intending to be a prat, that he sell it for scrap metal, but that van was... okay she wasn't in the best condition, but she had a few good miles left in her. Someone could still make use off it.

"You've turned away six perfectly acceptable buyers," Rodney said.

"They were not perfectly acceptable, or I would have accepted them. She's... she needs someone who'll give her a little love," John said.

"It's a van," Rodney said.

"This... is not just a van. Jen and I bought this on our honeymoon," John said.

"Why?" Rodney asked.

John snorted. "We were supposed to fly to Vancouver, but the flight was cancelled. We hadn't got much money; the flights were a wedding gift from my flight squad. So we bought the van and started driving. Made it as far as New York before we admitted defeat..."

"Sorry we didn't make it to Vancouver," John said.

Jen smiled. "Maybe next time... this has been fun."

"Sleeping in the back of a van..." John said.

"I don't think we actually did that much sleeping," Jen smirked.

"Hmm..." John agreed. "Wanna... sleep?"

"Does Piper know you two... in the van..." Rodney said.

"Are you kidding, she'd never get in it," John laughed. "But this ol' girl isn't just a van, she's part of the family."

"I've never had an emotional attachment to a car," Rodney said.

"Somehow, that doesn't surprise me. How would you like to sell your laptop for scrap?" John asked.

Rodney glared. "That's low..."

*~*~*~*~*

"She's not up to much is she," the grizzly looking man poked at the mirror, shifting it.

"She'll fool you, but she's a good van," John said.

"Hmm... don't think it's worth the money you're asking for it," he said. "I'll give you half."

"No way," John said.

"It's more than it's worth," he said, scratching his stomach.

"I don't think so. You'll have to look somewhere else," John said.

"Well... since it obviously has sentimental value... I'll give you your asking price," he said.

"No, I'm sorry, it's not for sale," John said.

"Well you can't just go changing your mind," he said.

"Well I have. Sorry to have wasted your time," John said, unapologetically. No way in hell was that jerk getting his hands on his van.

*~*~*~*~*

"What was wrong with that one?" Elizabeth asked, when she came outside to see John wiping the mirrors.

"He was a jerk," John said.

"Rodney is a jerk, you've trusted him with your van before," Elizabeth joked.

"He's a jerk that pays me. I know you all think I'm crazy, but this van... Piper was born in the back of this van... in fact, she might have been conceived in it too..." John said.

"Really?" Elizabeth seemed at once amused and slightly disturbed.

John smiled. "Yeah... we were driving back from her folks place; she went into labour so damn fast..."

"Oh God, I'm... I can't wait John, this baby is coming now!" Jen said, clutching his arm painfully.

"We'll be there soon, just another twenty minutes," John said.

"I don't have twenty minutes... stop the damn van!" Jen said.

"Jen, we need to get to the hospital," John said, slightly more panicked than he'd like to admit.

"John, stop the damn van, this baby isn't going to wait twenty minutes!" Jen said.

John pulled of the side of the road. "Jen..."

"Get me into the back..." Jen said, gritting her teeth.

"Right... right..." John said, jumping down and running around to help her.

Jen was already dilated, already ready for pushing. "John... I'm going to need you to be ready to catch the baby..."

"Uh... right..." John thought back to his first aid training... hell, bandaging belly wounds had nothing on this.

"Arrrggg..." Jen pushed, tears staining her cheeks as she did.

"You're... you're doing great..." John said nervously, squeezing her leg, where he sat watching the head appear. "Almost... I can see the head..."

Jen let out another scream as she pushed again and John was amazed as he saw the head turn into a body, a tiny, wriggly body that let out a loud piercing cry that brought tears to his eyes.

"It's a girl... it's a baby girl..."

"One of the scariest moments of my life... one of the best too..." John said.

"You could always keep it. Maybe you could rent a garage in town..." Elizabeth offered.

John sighed. "No... Rodney's right, I just... want her to go to someone who'll really take care of her."

"Good luck," Elizabeth said.

John snorted. Yeah, it looked like he'd really need it.

*~*~*~*~*

"How long has it been on the market now?" Rodney asked.

"Three weeks," John sighed.

"Is it possibly, you're being too fussy?" Rodney asked.

John hated to admit it but, yeah, he probably was. "I just... don't think I can sell it... I can't find anyone I like. I don't think there *is* anyone I like. She isn't just a van to me Rodney."

"I know. I found a garage in town. Rental is paid up for six months." Rodney handed over a set of keys. "There is a security alarm; you'll need to set your own code."

John frowned. "But... Rodney I can't... you bought me a jeep, I'll have to..."

Rodney waved him off. "Consider it a temporary reprieve, in six months if you still insist on this... attachment... I'll have a space around back cleared."

"But..." John was, somewhere between awe and insult.

"Don't get over excited. I may well be conceding here that... she... isn't just a van. I rarely concede anything, so don't expect it to happen again," Rodney said.

John chuckled, smiling softly. "Thanks Rodney."

Rodney snorted. "Yes, yes, I'm a wonderful human being. And my wonderful stomach expects food soon, so lets put your metal girlfriend to bed for the night so you can feed me."

"I'll be right in..." John promised. John was just locking her up, when he heard footsteps approaching.

"Um... John Sheppard?" there was a young kid with short cut hair standing behind him when he turned around.

"Yeah, that's me," John said.

"Max Hyde Sir, we spoke on the phone," he said.

"Oh, right. Max, sorry, I would have called you back... I've decided not to sell her," John said.

"Oh," Max looked crestfallen.

"What's wrong?" the young woman who came from the other side startled John.

"He's not selling it," Max said, opening his arms to his obviously pregnant partner. "This is my wife, Jane."

"Hi," John smiled. "John Sheppard. I'm really sorry to have made you come all this way..."

Max smiled and shrugged. "It's okay. We we're coming out to visit my Momma anyway, Jane's due in a couple of months and my Momma has some of my old baby things. That's really kinda why we wanted a van, so we could move stuff easier. We're just setting up in Colorado Springs."

John let out a little huff of air that was half a chuckle. "You got a dollar?"

"A dollar?" Max frowned.

"Yeah, a dollar..." John said.

Max pulled his wallet out and handed over a dollar bill.

"Nice and crisp..." John smiled and pulled the keys out of his pocket and holding them out. "She's yours"

"What?" Max looked shocked.

"She's yours," John repeated, pushing the keys into his hands.

"But... we can't possibly..." Jane said.

John smiled. "Just take good care of her and each other... and keep an eye on the gas gauge. It likes to lie to you in cold weather."

"This is... wow, really, thank you. It's just... amazing and..." Max couldn't find words.

"Drive safe," John called, waving them off.

"Did I just hear a car?" Rodney poked his head out the door.

"Van," John said.

"Where did it go?" Rodney said.

"Sold it. Got a crisp new dollar," John held it up.

"You sold if for a dollar?" Rodney looked confused.

John shrugged. "They were a nice couple."

"You're insane," Rodney said.

"Certifiable," John agreed with a grin.

*~*~*~*~*

John dished out eggs to the girls, before setting a plate in front of Elizabeth. "There you go, eggs, just the way you like them," he said.

"But that's not eggs," Madison said.

"And that's just the way I like them," Elizabeth smiled, pulling a piece of muffin off to eat it.

"Good morning," Rodney came in, looking scarily bright, already dressed and shaved.

"Morning, you're cheerful today," John said, setting down a cup of coffee and a plate for Rodney.

"I have an announcement," Rodney said, with a smile.

"Oh and announcement, this sounds good. Let me guess, you've met a gorgeous buxom blond and you're eloping on Tuesday," Elizabeth said.

Rodney snorted. "No."

"Wednesday?" Elizabeth offered.

"No," Rodney repeated, glaring. "As you know, it's coming up on the anniversary of John and Piper coming to live here..."

"You were close..." Piper said.

"In honour of the occasion," Rodney continued, ignoring the teenager. "I thought a special dinner was in order."

"Sounds good, where are we going?" John asked.

"It will be on Friday and I'm going to cook," Rodney said.

"What?"

"You can't cook Uncle Rodney; you burned cookies in my easy bake oven."

"Did you hit your head?"

"Well, it's nice to know you all have so much faith in me," Rodney said.

"Rodney, you're great at a lot of things, cooking, just isn't one of them," John said.

"Well I am. I'm going to cook. And it will be delicious," Rodney informed them.

"Well, I can't make it," Piper said.

"Come on Pi, it'll be... fine," John said.

"That remains to be seen, but I'm going skiing with Shannon and her folks," Piper said.

"Oh... well we'll do it next Friday then," Rodney said.

"Um... no can do. I'll be out of town that weekend," Elizabeth said.

"The following Saturday?" Rodney suggested.

"Sports league," John said.

"Well... I suppose we could leave it until next month," Rodney said.

"No, it's fine," Piper said. "Go on ahead with out me. And while I'm away I'll send you an anniversary card... and a get well card."

"Or we could just do what we did last year," John said.

"I forgot it last year," Rodney said.

"I know, it's was a great anniversary," John grinned. Rodney threw a coaster at him.

*~*~*~*~*

John came down the stairs, humming to himself, only to be stopped when he tried to enter the kitchen. "Ah... Rodney..."

"What?" Rodney sounded harried.

"Is everything okay?"

"Fine, I'm cooking," Rodney said.

"That's what I'm worried about," John said.

"Everything's under control," Rodney said.

John frowned, unconvinced. "Okay... did you figure out how to work the..."

"I have two PhDs I can figure out how to work basic kitchen appliances," Rodney said.

"Okay..." John backed away from the kitchen, still half listening for sounds of an imminent explosion.

*~*~*~*~*

Elizabeth came in the back door, startling him. "Rodney, I'm filling out these insurance forms and..."

"Elizabeth, has it escaped your notice I'm attached to a blender?" Rodney asked.

"I didn't want to criticize," Elizabeth said.

"Help me!" Rodney said.

Elizabeth gave a tug. "It's stuck."

"I know it's stuck, unstick it," Rodney said.

"I don't know, maybe this is a good time to discuss my pay rise," Elizabeth said.

"What pay rise?" Rodney asked.

"The one you're going to give me," Elizabeth said.

"I..." Rodney tugged indignantly at his tie, but it just tightened on his neck. "Fine... five percent."

"I knew you'd see things my way. You know Rodney, I love you like a brother... and there are many areas in which you really are the genius you keep telling us you are... cooking, isn't one of them," Elizabeth said as she retrieved the scissors and cut Rodney's tie free from the blender.

"What's you're point?" Rodney said.

"Save us all the embarrassing stomach cramps... let John take over before it's too late," Elizabeth said.

Rodney fiddled with his truncated tie and glared at her.

*~*~*~*~*

John decided if he wasn't allowed in the kitchen, he could at least clean the living room, maybe get the good silverware out.

He was polishing a tray, humming to himself. "I'd make a great silver dollar," he thought aloud, grinning at his own reflection in the try.

"John..." Madison's approach startled him.

"Hey M&M, what's up?" John asked.

"Well... remember that Trail Blazers camp this weekend?" Madison said.

"The one you don't want to go to, because you have to sleep outside and make your own bathroom?" John said.

"Yeah... do you think Uncle Rodney would let me go?" Madison asked.

"I don't see why not. But I warn you, I don't think you'll be able to hold it that long," John said. "What changed your mind?"

The doorbell rang and Madison rushed to answer, before John could ask. "Hi Madison. Are you coming to the Trail Blazer’s campout?"

"Oh... got it. I'll talk to Rodney," John said.

"You need help packing your duffle bag?" the young boy asked.

"I can’t say no to a man in uniform," Madison smiled dreamily.

John chuckled. So Madison had a crush. Rodney was going to flip a lid.

"Rodney..." John knocked cautiously on the kitchen door.

"What?" Rodney snapped.

"Can I come in?" John asked.

"No... Yes... I suppose so..." Rodney said.

"Hey, Rodney, I'm impressed... you've got pate, beef... it's like your cooking..." John smiled cheekily.

Rodney glared at him. "Did you come in here to annoy me?"

"Nope. But it looks like we're another one short for dinner. Madison has decided she wants to go to camp after all," John said.

"What? Why?" Rodney asked.

"Keith Hennis is going... it seems she has a crush," John said.

"What?" Rodney almost yelped.

"That boy with the blond hair and freckles?" Elizabeth asked over the top of him.

"Yup," John nodded.

"But it's our anniversary... oh well, I suppose it'll just be us grown-ups then," Rodney said as he battered the beef a little.

"Why didn't you just run over it in your car," Elizabeth suggested.

Rodney glared even harder. "I'm doing just fine, thank you. Dinner will be served promptly at eight."

"Ten bucks says it's eight fifteen," John said.

"Eight thirty... and it's burnt," Elizabeth said.

"I hate you both," Rodney grumbled.

*~*~*~*~*

John was pleasantly surprised to see Rodney, dressed in a dark grey suit, lighting candles when he came down stairs.

"I'm impressed Rodney. Eight dead on and the table looks great," John said.

"Thank you. Nice suit," Rodney says.

"You too," John shrugs.

"Oh, you two look good enough to eat," Elizabeth said.

"We... Elizabeth, I know I said dinner was informal but..." Rodney looked at her curiously.

"Yes, well, about that... I'm not actually staying for dinner," Elizabeth said.

"What? Why?" Rodney asked.

"I've had a better offer," Elizabeth grinned.

"But you'll miss my dinner," Rodney said.

"That’s another plus. Besides, you don’t need me around while you two celebrate."

"Elizabeth, this dinner is just a simple gesture of gratitude from an employer to an employee," Rodney said.

"Well, who am I to stand in the way of true employment?" Elizabeth smiled, waving as she heard a car horn beeping outside.

"So..." Rodney said. "I guess it’s just us."

"Yeah, I guess it’s just us," John nods.

"How about a little champagne? You don’t celebrate an anniversary every day," Rodney said.

John chuckled. "Yeah, probably not more than once a year."

Rodney popped the cork, cringing when glass shattered, the light dimming.

"Rodney, if you wanted to dim the lights, there's a switch on the wall," John said.

"Maybe you better pour," Rodney handed him the bottle.

John relaxed, pouring the champagne, laughing with Rodney. Rodney attempted to say nice things, but he blushed and flustered until John took pity on him and raised his glass in a toast, to the family.

*~*~*~*~*

"I have to hand it too you Rodney, that was pretty good," John said.

"Really? Would you like some more?" Rodney asked.

"No... I mean, no thanks," John said.

"You hated it," Rodney frowned.

"No, I didn't, honestly, I really loved it. What were those red, thread-like things in the pate?" John asked.

"What did they taste like?" Rodney asked cautiously.

"Polyester blend," John said.

"I beg your pardon. That tie was one hundred percent silk," Rodney said.

"My mistake," John smirked.

"I..." Rodney blushed, before he joined John, laughing.

"Why were you wearing a tie to cook anyway?" John asked.

"I had to video conference while the beef was cooking," Rodney said. "I had to cut it short thought so the beef wouldn't overcook."

John smiled easily. "Really, Rodney, this was terrific. I mean, how many housekeepers get this kind of treatment from their bosses?"

"Well... you're... you aren't just a housekeeper," Rodney said.

"Well, you're not exactly just a boss," John said, his tone carefully neutral.

"You've... you've been living here a few years now and... what exactly do you think we are?" Rodney asked.

"You want to know what I think?" John asked.

"That's why I'm asking," Rodney said.

"I think..." John said. "That we should take the rest of this champagne over to the couch and discuss it."

"Maybe we should..." Rodney said softly, standing up.

John got up too, reaching for the champagne bottle, when a sharp pain caught him off guard. "Oh..."

"Are you okay?" Rodney asked.

"Just a cramp," John said, biting his lip. "Owwww."

"What's wrong?" Rodney asked, panicked.

"My stomach..." John said, grabbing onto the back of his chair for support.

"Oh my god, I've poisoned you," Rodney said, helping John move to the couch. "You’re burning up! I’m calling the doctor. I don’t want to hear any macho arguments. You’re too sick. You need professional attention and..."

"Rodney! Would you call the doctor!" John asked.

Rodney looked vaguely startled. "Right."

*~*~*~*~*

Rodney paced back and forth, hating the hospital smells. "Mr. McKay?"

"Doctor... I mean me, I'm Doctor McKay... a physicist, not a medical Doctor..." Rodney babbled.

"I'm Doctor Watson. It looks like your friend’s appendix is about to burst," the man said.

"His appendix? Oh, thank God!" Rodney said.

"I beg your pardon?" the doctor asked.

"No, no, I mean, thank God it wasn’t food poisoning... Cooking couldn’t do that to an appendix, could it?" Rodney asked.

"No," the doctor assured.

"Not even really bad cooking?" Rodney asked.

*~*~*~*~*

John lay on the bed, feeling uncomfortably exposed under the sheets. The pretty young nurse smiled at him. "This should make you feel better or at least you won't care how bad you feel."

"Hmmm... so taking out an appendix is pretty routine stuff, huh?" John asked.

The nurse nodded. "Well, of course, as with any major surgery, there’s always a chance of death."

"Gee thanks," John said. The nurse gave him another smile and patted his arm, before leaving.

"Hi," Rodney poked his head around the door.

"Hi," John said.

"Well, looks like it wasn’t my cooking after all," Rodney said.

John smiles a little. "No... I was pretty surprised."

Rodney chuckles. "So was I. Some Anniversary, huh. Are you scared?"

"Me? Nah. What have I got to be scared about?" John shrugged.

The nurse returned with two orderlies and the doctor. "All aboard for major surgery," she said as they moved him onto a gurney.

"Oh, that..." John said.

"Don’t worry. You're going to be okay. You have to be. What would I do without you?" Rodney said.

"Hey, you'd be fine. It might take a few months, but eventually you'll learn how to use the vacuum," John joked, groggily.

"How are you feeling?" Doctor Watson asked, checking his pulse.

"I don’t know what you gave me, Doc, but does it come in a six pack?" John asked.

"Now, John, I want you to know, an appendectomy is a fairly routine procedure. But as with any major surgery, there is always the chance of death," the doctor said.

"Who picked this hospital?" John asked.

"Don’t worry. I’ll be right here when it's all over. I mean, when they wheel you out... Alive, and just fine," Rodney said.

"Listen, Rodney, if anything happens to me..."

"Nothing is going to happen to you," Rodney insisted.

"Okay, it's not. But if it did, I’d like you to take care of Pi," John said.

"Oh, John," Rodney said quietly.

"I mean, you've been so good for her already," John said.

"John, I’d be honoured to take care of Piper," Rodney said.

"Thanks..." John murmured, already more than half asleep. "Hey Rodney... I love you."

Rodney stood stunned for a moment as John was wheeled into the hall, before rushing after him.

"What? Wait a minute!" he grabbed onto the gurney.

"What did he say?" Rodney asked, shaking John. "What did you say? John, wake up! John!"

"Sir, if you don’t mind, if would probably go easier for him if he were asleep," the nurse said.


"What? Oh right. Yes. Shhh," Rodney put his fingers to his lips. What had John said. Could Rodney have misheard or... or not misheard.

*~*~*~*~*

"Wake Up!" Elizabeth's voice startles him. "I’m sorry, did I wake you?"

"Oh, it’s you. I didn’t sleep at all last night," Rodney groaned.

"Really? All night long? How’s John?" Elizabeth asked.

"He's in the hospital," Rodney said.

"Rodney, what did you do to him?" Elizabeth asked.

"His appendix burst," Rodney said. "John got sick right after dinner. They took his appendix out at two o’clock this morning."

"Oh, my God. Is he all right?" Elizabeth asked.

"He’s fine. The doctor said he’ll probably sleep for another eight hours," Rodney said.

"So everything’s okay?" Elizabeth asked.

"No, everything’s a mess. John told me he loved me," Rodney said.

"And the plot thickens. What did you say to him?" Elizabeth asked.

"Nothing. He was unconscious at the time," Rodney said.

Elizabeth chuckled. "That explains it."

"Elizabeth!" Rodney glared.

"Well, how do you feel about him?" Elizabeth asked.

"He’s my housekeeper, he's ex-military. We're from totally different worlds," Rodney said.

"You’re not answering the question, Rodney. Do you love him?" Elizabeth pressed.

"What if I did love him and things didn’t work out and we ended up not even liking each other and he moved to another state and we never saw each other again and the girls never saw each other again... and I couldn’t figure out how to use the vacuum," Rodney said.

"Yeah, but what if it did work out and it was good? Really good," Elizabeth offered. "Talk to him, Rodney."

"I wouldn’t know what to say. What if he didn’t mean what he said? What if he doesn’t even remember what he said?" Rodney asked.

"What if he does remember and he did mean it?" Elizabeth asked.

Rodney frowned. "Why do you always have to answer a question with a question?"

"Do I do that?" Elizabeth quirked a smile. "Come on, you big chicken. What’s it going to be?"

Rodney glared. "I am not a chicken and I fully intend to discuss this with John.. If he brings it up..."

Elizabeth shook her head and clucked. Rodney glared harder.

*~*~*~*~*

"Rodney," John murmured coming around, feeling a warm hand, he grabbed it, opening his eyes. "You're not Rodney."

The nurse shook her head. "Take it easy. You just came out of surgery."

"I guess I gave everyone a pretty big scare," John said.

"Not me. I don’t even know you. But your friend looked pretty shook up," the nurse said.

"Oh, that's Rodney. He thought he'd killed me..." John said.

The nurse stuck a thermometer in his mouth. "No, he seemed to take that in stride. It’s when you told him you loved him that he really got jumpy."

John spit out the thermometer. "What? I said what?"

"Yeah. Surprised him too," the nurse shrugged putting the thermometer back in his mouth.

"How could I say that? He's my boss," John mumbled around the thermometer before it got annoying and he took it out again. "What am I going to do?"

"You're going to put this thermometer back in you mouth so I can finish your chart and go home," the nurse glared at him putting replacing the thermometer again.

"I’m such a jerk. That was way out of line. I probably ruined everything. Just when it was going so good," John complained, removing the thermometer again.

"I’m warning you, buddy. One more peep and I’m going to be forced to take a different approach with this thing," the nurse said.

John opened his mouth and let the nurse put the thermometer back.

"If you're that worried about it, you can always take the easy way out," the nurse said.

"What..." John made a 'blowing my brains out' signal with his hand.

"That's not what I meant," the nurse rolled her eyes. "Pretend it never happened. You were so doped up you could have made a pass at Muhammad Ali."

"He wasn't here was he?" John asked.

The nurse removed the thermometer. "Good news, you're normal, more or less."

John sighed. "Don't get your boxers in a twist," the nurse said. "You obviously like him, what have you got to loose."

"Everything," John said, just as Rodney entered.

"Hi," Rodney said.

"Rodney... Hi," John said.

"How are you feeling?" Rodney asked.

"Like someone cut me open and ripped out my insides," John said, as soon as his mouth was free of the thermometer, finally.

"Actually, that’s pretty much how it happened," the nurse said, making a note on John's chart before leaving.

"Here, these are for you..." Rodney shoved a box at him.

"Thanks. I love chocolates," John said, opening the card. "Get well soon. Aw, how’d you think of that?"

Rodney shrugged. Okay so it wasn't very inventive.

"What’s this scratched out here?" John asked. "L... O..."

"Oh, that's 'Lots of Luck,' but it didn't seem to convey the right feeling," Rodney said.

"This is much better. 'Yours truly, Rodney McKay,' that’s very touching," John said. "Listen, Rodney, about last night..."

"Yes?" Rodney asked a little too quickly.

"It was a great dinner. The whole evening was great. Right up until they wheeled me into surgery..." John said.

Rodney nodded. "Yeah, speaking of when they wheeled you into surgery..."

"Yes?" John asked.

"You must have been pretty groggy," Rodney said.

"Oh. Yeah, I was." John agreed.

"So you probably don’t remember anything you said..." Rodney said.

"Well, actually... I do remember saying something..." John said.

"Oh. What was that?" Rodney asked.

"Ow," John said, chickening out.

"Yeah," Rodney nodded. "That's what I remember, too." At least they were chicken's together.

"Well, I guess you’re kind of tired. Get some sleep. I’ll be back later," Rodney said, giving him a weak smile before he left.

John sighed and closed his eyes. He never noticed Rodney peak in the door again.
Blind Date by kez
"Dad, can we get some ice pops?" Piper asked.

"Sure, but nothing with citrus," John reminded her. Rodney liked the ice pops too and at zero-three-thirty, he didn't look to closely at flavours.

"Oh... I'm sorry..." John heard the soft, feminine voice as he was jostled and knocked against the freezer.

"Not a problem," John turned, offering a easy smile. He turned it up a notch when he saw who'd bumped into him.

"I'm such a clutz with these things," the woman smiled, bright and sweet.

"Honestly, don't even think about it. I've had worse knocks," John assured.

The woman, offered a hand. "I'm Amy."

"John. I don't think I've seen you here before," John said.

"Oh I've just moved into town. I work in Colorado Springs, but it seems so much nicer to live out here," Amy said, smiling.

"It's a great little town," John agreed.

"Dad, did you get... oh, hi..." Piper said.

"Piper, this is Amy. My daughter, Piper," John introduced.

"Hi," Amy smiled sweetly again and Piper gave her a look that said 'talk to the hand, cause this face ain't buying it'. John would have called her on it, but Amy didn't seem to notice, or if she did, she didn't care.

"Well, maybe I'll bump into you again sometime," Amy said, pushing her cart on along the row.

"Who was that?" Piper asked.

"She bumped into me with her cart," John shrugged.

"That is the oldest trick *ever*," Piper announced with a vague air of disgust. John chuckled and shrugged it off. Teenagers.

*~*~*~*~*

"He was flirting?" Madison asked.

"It was disgusting," Piper said. "She was slobbering all over him like a mangy dog and he was grinning at her like an idiot."

"Ewww," Madison said. "You don't think he'll see her again do you?"

"I hope not. I don't want any evil step-mothers," Piper said.

"He wouldn't *marry* her," Madison said loudly.

"It's what people do. They flirt, then date and then get married. I'd make a terrible Cinderella," Piper said with a sigh.

"But then you wouldn't live here anymore," Madison frowned. "I like having a big sister."

"Well, I'm not really your sister," Piper said. "But I guess I'd miss having you around too."

"We could be sisters, if Uncle Rodney and John got married," Madison said.

"Rodney isn't your Dad, so we still wouldn't be sisters..." Piper said. "But we wouldn't have to move out... That's it!"

"What's it?" Madison said.

"You're a genius. That's how we stop my Dad from marrying some vapid queen of the damned!" Piper announced. "He has to marry Rodney."

"But they don't even go out," Madison said. "I know I said if they got married but..."

"No, I know. It would be... but I'm sure my Dad likes Rodney. I don't think he's ever had a boyfriend before, but Andy Gill's Dad was married and never had a boyfriend before and he moved in with his boyfriend last month. Andy's Mom was so mad she threw a plate at his head," Piper said.

"What does that have to do with anything?" Madison asked.

"Well, it means that even if neither of them ever had a boyfriend before, they could still like each other now... has Rodney ever had a boyfriend?" Piper asked.

"I don't know," Madison said. "I don't think so."

"But he likes my dad. I bet he'd be boyfriends with him... we have to set them up!" Piper said.

"They'll ground us for *ever*," Madison said.

"Naw, they won't, we just have to make sure they don't know it's us," Piper said. "We need to soften them up first..."

*~*~*~*~*

"Rodney..." Piper sat down across from him, where he was perched on the couch.

"Yes?" Rodney asked without even looking up.

"Can I ask you something?" Piper said.

"I think you just did. But if you mean something else, yes, I suppose so," Rodney glanced up. "What is it?"

"Well... there is this boy..."

"I am really the wrong person to ask about this. Elizabeth is your better choice," Rodney said, right away.

"It's not like that... I think... I think he likes you know, other boys..." Piper said.

"Still, not the right person to ask," Rodney said.

"Can I finish please?" Piper said.

Rodney sighed, setting down his laptop. "Okay, what about this boy?"

"Well, I think he likes other boys, but he's scared to say anything you know, in case he gets beat up. But I know there is another boy who likes him too... you know..." Piper said. "Would you get mad, if someone set you up on a date with a man?"

"How did this become about me?" Rodney asked.

"It's not, it's about him, but you know, you're a guy and he's a guy... I wanted a guys opinion and I can't ask Dad," Piper bit her lip and gave her best 'embarrassed' look.

"No, I wouldn't be mad. But as a rule, I'd say stay out of it anyway, if these boys really like each other that much, they'll find a way to let the other know," Rodney said.

"But I don't think they even know the other one likes them..." Piper said.

"You should really just stay out of it Piper, that's my advise, take it or leave it, but I'm a genius, so I'd recommend taking it," Rodney said.

"I guess..." Piper said, fighting back a smile. She was so not staying out of it.

*~*~*~*~*

"Do you think it's okay for boys to kiss other boys?" Madison asked John, in a rush of air, that he almost missed.

"Where did that come from?" John asked. It wasn't the sort of question he'd been expecting from an eight year old, not even Madison, with all her natural curiosity.

"Piper said that there is a boy in her school, who's Dad left his mom for another man," Madison said.

"Oh," yeah, John had heard. In a small town, it was hard not to hear these things. "If you love someone, it doesn't matter if they are a man or a woman," John said.

"Have you ever kissed a boy?" Madison asked.

John frowned. "If I tell you a secret, you promise not to tell?"

Madison nodded solemnly. "Cross my heart."

"I kissed a boy once," John admitted.

"Was it weird?" Madison asked.

"Only because it was a friend and I wasn't expecting to kiss a friend," John said.

"I think it's okay for boys to kiss other boys..." Madison said.

"Well, good. Because it is... and you should never judge or make fun of anyone for kissing someone," John said.

Madison shrugged. "Okay. Can we have chocolate pudding tonight?"

"No, you know you only get chocolate pudding on a Saturday," John said.

Madison grinned. "Was worth a shot."

John chuckled. "Go bug your Uncle Rodney."

"Okay... but I'm telling him you sent me!" Madison said, giggling as she made a dash for the living room.

*~*~*~*~*

John had forgotten all about his conversation with Madison, a few days later, when a card came in the post for him.

"What's that?" Piper asked.

John shrugged. "Came in the post..."

Piper grabbed it off him. "A secret admirer?"

"Don't you know it's illegal to read other peoples mail," John said.

"I'm fourteen," Piper said.

John grabbed the card back. "So you can still get grounded."

"Okay, okay. So you going to go?" Piper asked.

"Go where?" John asked.

"Date. Twenty-hundred-hours, Friday," Piper said.

"No," John said.

"Why not?" Piper asked.

"Because I don't go on dates with strangers," John said.

"But it's probably someone you know and it's been ages since you've gone out anywhere..." Piper said.

"I go out," John said.

"Oh sure, with the guys, but I mean on a date," Piper said.

"Well, I don't have time. And I'm not really interested," John said.

"But it could be fun. And aren't you the least little bit curious..." Piper wheedled.

"I suppose," John agreed.

"Go on, Dad, what have you got too loose," Piper said, grinning.

John chuckled and shook his head. "Okay, okay. I'll go, geez, teenagers."

"Oh you *have* to wear you're grey suit, with your green shirt!" Piper said.

"Oh do I now?" John said.

"It's an upscale restaurant Dad, you can't go in jeans!"

*~*~*~*~*

Rodney almost didn't check his mail, because he was busy being brilliant, but Elizabeth brought it to his attention, on Thursday evening.

"Rodney, have you read your mail at all this week?" Elizabeth asked.

"Hmm, I flicked through a few bits," Rodney said, without looking up.

"Did you notice this?" Elizabeth asked.

"What?" Rodney asked.

"It's a note... from a secret admirer," Elizabeth said.

"A what?" Rodney actually looked up.

"Hmmm. Roses are red, I prefer blue..."

"Stop, please, don't even... what twelve year old sent me a bloody valentine, besides, isn't it late?"

"I don't think it's a valentine Rodney, it's an invitation to dinner, tomorrow night," Elizabeth said.

"Well, I'm busy," Rodney said.

"Rodney, whoever sent this went to a lot of trouble, you can't just leave them sitting waiting for you," Elizabeth said.

"Oh I really can, if they were juvenile enough to do this," Rodney said.

Elizabeth sighed. "Rodney, come on, what's the harm. Go out, have some dinner... it must be someone you know..."

"Not very well, obviously, or they'd know there is no chance of me going along with this," Rodney said.

"Rodney," Elizabeth rolled her eyes.

"I don't see why you're bothered," Rodney said.

"Maybe I'd like to see you spend time somewhere other than your study for once," Elizabeth said.

"I was out last weekend," Rodney said.

"Yes, with the girls. And that's great, but don't you ever want an adult conversation?" Elizabeth said.

"John provides more or less adult conversation," Rodney said.

"Okay... but don't say I didn't try. I think you could have fun and aren't you even the littlest bit curious?" Elizabeth asked.

Rodney glared at her. Damn his curiosity!

*~*~*~*~*

Rodney glanced around, making sure that no one he knew was in the restaurant as he approached the maitre d'. "Excuse me, I'm looking for someone... not just anyone, I mean, a specific someone..."

"Doctor McKay, I presume," the maitre d' smiled. "You're table is ready."

"Oh, well yes. Is my... have I..." Rodney blushed.

"You're admirer has not yet arrived," the maitre d' said.

"This... is really a terrible idea. I just don't do things like this. My PA talked me into it," Rodney said, letting the maitre d' lead him to a quiet table in the corner of the restaurant.

Rodney sat, facing the wall, so he turned to look around, meeting the eyes of a sultry blonde who looked at him, smirking provocatively. Rodney turned away immediately. She was hot and he liked blondes, but he felt a bit like raw meat when she looked at him. What the hell was he doing here?

*~*~*~*~*

John checked his hair in the mirror at the door. He couldn't make it sit down, so he might as well make the most of it, making sure it looked like he'd just rolled out of bed was never a problem.

"Hi. I'm John Sheppard, I'm here to meet someone," John gave his most award winning smirk.

"Ah, of course, Mr. Sheppard," the maitre d' smiled. "Your date has just arrived."

"Attractive?" John asked.

"Most handsome," the maitre d' smiled. John might have wondered at calling a woman handsome, but then he was being led to a table and realised *why* he was calling a woman handsome. He wasn't, it was a man... it was...

*~*~*~*~*

"You?" John said startled.

"You?" Rodney looked just as shocked.

"Oh love is in the air," the maitre d' smiled, leaving them looking at each other, with utter confusion.

John sat down. "Well, this is a surprise."

"I... don't know what to say," Rodney said.

"I think your card said it all," John said. "Awaiting true loves kiss..."

"I... what card? I didn't send a card. And I wouldn't write anything like that drivel. Sounds like it was written by an eight year old," Rodney said.

"Well... I got the card... and here I am. And here you are," John said.

"I... John..."

"If you want me to be your Valentine Rodney, you could have just asked, although you're a bit late," John said.

"John, I didn't... if you wanted to invite me out, you just had to ask, you didn't have to be all cloak and dagger," Rodney said.

"I invited you?" John said. "Dream on." Rodney looked vaguely insulted. "Besides, why would I invite you out, I eat with you every night." John added.

"Well what are you doing here then?" Rodney asked.

"I'm meeting someone," John said.

"Oh. Who?" Rodney asked.

"A date," John said.

"Who is she?" Rodney asked.

"Well, I don't exactly know," John said.

"A blind date?" Rodney asked.

"No..." John said, defensively. "Just a date I haven't met yet."

Rodney laughed. "John Sheppard on a blind date, I'd have thought you were booked through 'til Christmas."

"New Years, actually. And what about you?" John asked.

"I'm... meeting someone," Rodney said.

"Who?" John asked.

"I... don't exactly know. But it's different in my case, it's not like it's a secret I have no social life and no concept of how to date," Rodney said.

John called the maitre d' over. "Look I think there has been a mistake, I'm supposed to be meeting someone else." John spotted the sultry blonde. "Maybe her."

"Yes," Rodney said. "And I'm supposed to be meeting someone else too..." Rodney looked around. "Maybe she's washing her hands."

"No, no, no," the maitre d' assured. "Your hosts were very specific, Mr. Sheppard and Dr. McKay."

"We have hosts?" Rodney asked.

"Indeed and they asked to be anonymous," the maitre d' smiled.

"So who is they?" John asked.

"Ah, no, I cannot say," the maitre d' said.

John stood up ready to look menacing as Rodney held up a fifty. "Can you give us a hint?"

The maitre d' smiled. "I cannot, please, enjoy your meal."

"Who would do this?" Rodney asked as John sat down.

"I don't know. Someone who wants us to get together..." John said. "Laura?"

"I don't think my ex-wife would set me up with my *male* housekeeper," Rodney said.

"Well then who?" John said, standing. "Oh it doesn't matter, come on, let's get out of here."

"No... John wait. If someone really wants to ply us with gourmet food at their expense..." Rodney said.

"You're right," John sat down again. "Lets enjoy ourselves."

"Excuse me..." Rodney called the maitre d' back. "We'd like to send this wine back."

"Is something wrong with it?" the maitre d' asked.

"No, it's very good wine, light, crisp, very good... we'd just like something a little more... expensive," Rodney said.

"A lot more expensive," John added grinning.

"Champagne. Dom Pérignon, I don't want to see that bucket empty all night," Rodney said.

"Yeah, we might want to bath in it later... seperately of course," John smirked.

The maitre d' nodded, smiling in a way that suggested he thought they were a little crazy, but took their wine away.

"Well, looks like this might not be a complete disaster after all, cheers Rodney," John toasted with the wine that had already been poured into their glasses.

"Thanks... really, that's a compliment, it's fantastic being here with you too," Rodney said, rolling his eyes.

*~*~*~*~*

"God, I'm stuffed," Rodney said. "That lobster was delicious."

"Yeah and don't forget the shrimp cocktail, caviar quiche, the oyster shuffle, the chateaubriand with truffles," John said.

Rodney smiled. "The crème brule, the chocolate moose, the raspberry tart. Wait 'til our 'hosts' get the bill."

John laughed. "Oh yeah."

"Well I've had fun," Rodney said. "Even if I didn't fall in love."

"Aww, you didn't?" John grinned.

"Well..." Rodney leaned closer. "I could spend the rest of my life, with that chocolate moose."

John laughed. "I'd have thought you'd go for the raspberry tart. Come on, lets get home. Your place or mine?"

"Ah, I see everything worked out after all," the maitre d' smiled, bringing their coats, as they stood up.

"Wait, if we go home together, they'll know we've been out together," Rodney said.

"Well we have," John said.

"Yeah, but I don't want the girls getting the wrong idea. And Elizabeth has a truly dirty mind, no matter what she says," Rodney said.

"Okay," John grinned. "It'll be our little secret."

*~*~*~*~*

Elizabeth, Piper and Madison sat, trying not to look like they were expectant, when Rodney came in.

"Hello children. Elizabeth," Rodney wrinkled his nose when he noticed the girly magazine, Elizabeth was reading.

"Uncle Rodney... Where's your blind date?" Madison asked.

"Oh Adele, she had to leave, back to Canada, two ships passing in the night," Rodney waved a dismissive hand.

"Where's John?" Madison asked.

"John? I don't know. Am I his keeper?" Rodney said.

"But..." Madison started to said, as John came in through the other door.

"Hey kids, Elizabeth... wow, Rodney check out the suit, nice," John said. "Don't think I've seen that one before."

"No, you haven't," Rodney said. "You too... nice tie."

"Oh this old thing..." John said, smiling.

"How was the date Dad?" Piper asked.

"Oh you know... I've had better," John said.

"I'm sure you have," Elizabeth smirked knowingly.

"But... you were supposed to be together..." Madison said, frowning.

"Maddie... what do you mean we were supposed to be together?" John said.

"Because that's the way I planned it," Madison said.

"You what?" Rodney said. "You're our host... Madison, where on Earth did you get the money to pay for that dinner it was over $200."

"I used your credit card," Madison said.

"I knew I should have asked for a doggy bag," John said.

Rodney gave him a sharp look. "I don't know what you think you were playing at young lady but..."

"Rodney... why don't we let Madison explain, before you ground her for life," John said.

"Cause I want you and John to get married," Madison said.

"Kids say the funniest things," Piper said, laughing nervously.

"Why... why would you want John and I to get married?" Rodney asked, stunned.

"So John will be my Uncle too and he'll always be here," Madison said.

John sat on the edge of the sofa, beside Madison. "Maddie honey, that means a lot. But I don't need to be married to Rodney to be here anytime you need me."

"But why can't you get married?" Madison said.

"Madison... Maddie, John and I... we care about each other, but just not in that kind of way," Rodney said.

"I don't get it..." Madison said. "You're not married, John's not married. You like him and he likes you... even after he's seen you in your bathrobe..."

"Yes, I know... but that's not enough of a reason to get married," Rodney said.

"Then why do people get married?" Madison asked.

"Well..." John said. "First you've got to love each other."

"But you too love each other... don't you?" Madison asked.

John looked at Rodney. "There are different kinds of love..." Rodney said, floundering.

"That's right," John said. "There is the way you love your family... or the way you love your snake..."

"And the way you love your housekeeper," Elizabeth said.

"Thank you, Elizabeth," Rodney glared. "My point is, John and I love each other, care about each other, like friends..."

"But married people can be friends," Madison said.

"'Til the end of the honeymoon at least," Elizabeth said.

"Well what else do you need?" Madison asked.

Piper leaned over and whispered in here ear. "S.E.X."

"Sex?" Madison said. "Oh is that all... then why don't you just have that and get it over with."

"Rodney, I think it's time for that little chat with Madison..." John said, standing up and leaning closer to Rodney.

"Yes... I... Elizabeth, Piper..." Rodney said.

"If you think I'm missing this, your crazy," Elizabeth said.

"I'm with her," Piper smiled.

"But I know all about that stuff. Remember, we watched my Hamsters playing piggyback," Madison said.

"It's a little different for people Madison. Sex..." Rodney looked at John pleadingly.

"Maddie... this is more about sex in a relationship. A loving, mature, relationship..." John said.

"And it should be done in private," Rodney added.

"Actually, I think Piper should hear this too," John said.

"Come to think of it, it wouldn't hurt you either, Elizabeth," Rodney said. "Okay, you ready?"

"I'm on the edge of my seat," Elizabeth said.

Rodney rolled his eyes at her. "When two people care about each other, in that special way..."

"And they want to show each other how they feel," John said.

"Right..." Rodney nodded. "And be as close as they can be... that's called..."

"Sex," Madison said.

"No... well... no, it's called love," Rodney said.

"Married love," John said, pointing at Piper.

"And why two people have that... special love, that's when people can express themselves with sex," Rodney said.

"As long as you're twenty-one," John said.

"Can you understand now why John and I don't get married?" Rodney asked.

"I suppose... but I don't want John to go away," Madison said.

"Who said I'm going anywhere?" John said.

"Well you might go away and get another job," Madison said.

"But I'm not getting another job," John said.

"You might change your mind and go away, like Aunt Laura did," Madison said.

"Maddie..." John moved to sit beside her. "Look, I can't guarantee that I'm always going to live here, but you and me, we're friends right?"

"Right," Madison agreed.

"And one thing friends never do, is let each other down," John said.

"No, they don't," Rodney agreed.

"I don't need to be married to Rodney, to be here anytime and every time you need me, okay?" John said.

"Okay..." Madison said, snuggling into John's side when he put his arm around her.

"That's my girl," John dropped a kiss on her head.

"But maybe one day," Madison said thoughtfully. "You and Uncle Rodney will change your minds and have sex anyway."

*~*~*~*~*

"That was officially the worst talk about sex, ever," Rodney said, sitting at the kitchen table after the girls were in bed and Elizabeth had gone home.

"I don't think we scared them too much," John said.

"I think they scared me," Rodney said.

John chuckled. "Look on the bright side..."

"There's a bright side?" Rodney asked.

"Jeannie isn't here to kill you," John said.

"Oh God..." Rodney paled. "If there is an afterlife, I'm so screwed."
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