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."
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."
"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.
"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.
"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.
"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.
"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."