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.
"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.
"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.
"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.