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Physics of the Spin

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Summary: Rory Gilmore always thought she was Christopher Hayden's daughter, but things are a little more complicated than that... (Gilmore Girls/Stargate xover)

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Television > Gilmore Girls
Stargate > Non-BtVS/AtS Stories > Crossover: Other
(Past Donor)MhalachaiFR1321125,802148701183,7282 Jan 0812 Oct 09No

I Doubt Your Commitment To Sparkle Motion

"It wasn't that bad," John said, trying to keep a polite expression on his face.

"I was horrible," Rory corrected him, embarrassment at a poor job churning in her stomach, along with something a little else she didn't want to identify. "I couldn't even go in a straight line."

"At least you didn't fly into anything," John pointed out. He smiled, sending Rory's stomach into free-fall. "And you kept the Jumper on a solid vertical axis. That dimension is the hardest for people who haven't flown before. That was well done."

Rory's cheeks reddened at the praise. Normally she wanted to perform well for her instructors. But with John Sheppard, it was okay she hadn't been perfect right out of the gate. There was no reason that she should feel so comfortable in this man's presence, but it didn't seem to matter that her first flying lesson had really sucked.

This wasn't like her, and it was confusing.

"Next time, you'll know to keep the direct path in mind as well," John explained, his hand stretching out in a straight line. "Just aim for that horizon."

But Rory was not to be deterred. "What about when you're in space and there isn't any horizon to aim for?"

John rolled his eyes. "Pick the stars in the corner of the view screen and keep them there. Any other questions?"

Rory stopped, waiting until John swung around to face her. "Am I completely hopeless?"

"No," John replied immediately. "Compared with the others with the ATA gene, your first flying lesson was solidly in the middle of the pack."

That was not exactly what Rory hoped to hear.

"Come on, haven't you ever come across something you didn't get right away?"

"Miss Patty's jazz dance class," Rory said without thinking. "When I was eight." The corner of John's mouth twitched as he tried to hide his smile. "Seriously. There's video evidence. I had two left feet. I ran into things. And people. Occasionally pushing people into things."

"Well, consider your first flying lesson a step up from that," John said as he rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet. "You didn't hit anything. And your landing on the beach was perfect."

"It took almost a minute."

John considered. "Better slower than a Sunday drive than bashing the drive pods into the sand?"

Rory sighed. "Thank you very much for trying to spare my feelings, Colonel, but I know how I did."

John shifted his pack up to his shoulder. "Read up a little more on the control setup before your next time, and you'll be fine. You were just nervous. Oh, and remember to ease up your hold on the controls. The Jumper gets confused by such a tight grip on the stick."

Rory caught herself before she smiled. It was completely unfair how the man could unintentionally make anything sound dirty... although some of that might have a lot to do with Rory's confused hormones after spending a couple of hours in an enclosed Puddlejumper with a man who was seriously too hot to be legal. But I will not think such things about my father's best friend, she told herself sternly.

"So I'll see you around," John said, gently touching her arm before he started down the hall. "Good work today, Gilmore!"

Rory stood still, concentrating on not collapsing into a puddle in the hallway. He'd complimented her on her flying and he'd smiled at her. John Sheppard had smiled. At her.

She shook her head, wishing the churning in her stomach would stop. She needed to get over this stupid crush. So what if John Sheppard had smiled at her? He smiled at everyone. The man was a veritable smiling machine.

He wouldn't, couldn't ever see her as anything other than his best friend's daughter.

Rory had to stop being so stupid.

Someone coughed, startling Rory out of her thoughts. "Oh. Hi, Carlos."

Staff Sergeant Carlos Herrera clomped down the hall in a pitter-patter of steel-toed combat boots. "How'd it go?"

"The flying lesson? Fine," Rory said, her arm tingling where John had touched her. Pull yourself together! she chastised herself.

"Yeah. The flying lesson," Carlos said, giving her a sideways glance. "Sure."

Rory frowned. "What are you talking about?"

Carlos glanced up and down the hall in an exaggerated manner. "What was Colonel Sheppard carrying when he headed off?"

"His pack," Rory said slowly.

"And what was in his pack?"

"A life signs detector and canteen and the wrappers from a couple of sandwiches he brought for us to have at lunch. Why?"

"Ah," Carlos said, satisfaction exuding from that one word. "I see."

"What do you see?"

Carlos winked. "That wasn't a flying lesson."

Honestly, it was like playing mad libs with Lorelai on a bad day. "What else could it have been?"

Carlos sighed. "That, my dear Doctor-in-training Gilmore, was a date."

Rory almost fell over. "What?" Her heart threatened to pound its way out of her chest. "It was not a date!"

"Whatever," Carlos said. "Tell me, where exactly did the two of you have those sandwiches?"

"On the beach after we landed," Rory said, head spinning. "John wanted to go over some of the flight data with me before we came back."

Carlos' face creased into an evil grin. "You had a picnic on the beach with the man who just happened to offer you flying lessons in his favorite Jumper, and you say it's not a date?"

"It wasn't like that!" Rory protested, panic washing over her. "He said that because it was lunchtime, we should have something to tide us over while we were out flying around so neither of us passed out on the way back."

"I'm just saying," Carlos said. "Because when Lt. Huynh got a flying lesson from the Colonel last year, it certainly didn't involve picnics on sandy romantic beaches on the mainland."

"Oh god," Rory breathed, her face heating up.

"Did he tell you stories about his adventures in Pegasus?" Carlos went on, taking far too much enjoyment in Rory's discomfort. "With himself as the reluctant hero who swoops in at the last moment and saves the day?"

Rory covered her face with her hands.

"So," Carlos concluded cheerily. "A date."

"This is a disaster!" Rory exclaimed quietly, glancing around to make sure there was no one else in earshot.

"Don't worry about it," said Carlos dismissively. "It's not like it's against the regs or anything."

"That is not what I mean!" Rory desperately wished there was some sort of button she could push to make the last few minutes of her life rewind. "He's my father's friend, that would be wrong!"

Carlos raised an eyebrow. "He's, what, fifteen years older than you? So what?"

Rory rounded on Carlos. "You need to stop helping!"

"And have you seen him?" Carlos asked. "The man's gorgeous. I've heard a rumor he can disarm a nuclear bomb at thirty paces with that smile."

Rory came close to stamping her foot on the ground. "I'm not blind, but it doesn't matter!" Something from Carlos' statement twigged in her mind. "Wait, did you just call your commanding officer 'gorgeous'?"

A look of panic crossed Carlos' face. "From a purely technical perspective," he said, withdrawing into sudden military aloofness.

"Don't be an idiot, I don't care about that," Rory said. She slumped against the wall. "What am I going to do?"

Carlos rested his shoulder on the wall next to Rory. "You're not going down that road, huh?"

Rory took a deep breath. As much as she would have liked to entertain the fancy that John Sheppard had intended the flying lesson to be something more, she couldn't afford it. He was Rodney's best friend and the military commander of Atlantis under Colonel Carter, and he was almost certainly not interested in her. It had to be a misunderstanding.

"Not going down that road," she said after a minute, her heart only slightly bruised.

"Because of your dad?" Carlos guessed.

"Not only because of Rodney." Rory pushed a strand of hair off her face, wondering when her life had become such a cosmic mess. "I came to Atlantis to work on the ZPMs. I can't let whatever the hell this was mess up my chances at graduating Stargate University in a couple of years."

Carlos grasped her shoulder in a brotherly manner. "Career comes first, I get that."

Rory glanced up at him. "Although a date might have been nice. It's been one hell of a long time."

Carlos snorted. "Tell me about it."

Rory lowered her voice. "So why did you join the Marines if you knew you wouldn't be able to, um, tell?"

It took Carlos so long to answer that Rory wondered if she'd stepped over the line. "My dad was in the Corps. Some of my friends never knew their fathers, and I watched them grow up, and I watched my dad being totally dedicated to us and the job, and I just wanted to be like that."

Rory nudged his side with her elbow. "And now you're a Staff Sergeant in the lost city of Atlantis."

The smile that spread across his face was a marvel to behold. "That I am." He gallantly offered his arm to Rory. "Doctor-to-be, may I escort you to the mess hall for a cup of coffee?"

Rory took the proffered arm with grave courtesy. "Of course, Staff Sergeant. I would be honored."

They made it about five steps down the hall before Carlos asked, "So, did Sheppard tell you the story how he saved the princess of a jungle tribe and they made him their Chief?"

"Oh god!"

~~~

In the meantime, John sauntered down the hall, feeling more chipper than he had in a long time. He'd had a wonderful afternoon with Rory, outside the minor adrenaline rushes when it seemed like she might crash the Jumper headfirst into the ocean. Most importantly, Rory was a wonderful audience for all of John's Rodney McKay stories.

And she was a fast learner. In a few more lessons, she'd be able to fly as well as Rodney, if not better.

John was also proud that he'd managed to restrain himself from invading her personal space, no matter how much he wanted to correct her hold on the controls. He was fully aware of how pathetic that small restraint was, but he'd behaved like a perfect gentleman, not allowing his imagination to go there, even when Rory's grip had slipped hard to the base of the stick.

But I'm not thinking about that, John told himself, his treacherous mind unable to dampen his mood. It had been a relaxing afternoon with a fascinating, and fascinated, audience, and nothing had blown up or tried to kill them. That signaled a win in John Sheppard's book.

Ronon came out of nowhere, slowing down to match John's pace. "You're back."

"Indeed we are," John said with a lazy grin. "The skies were totally clear, it was a great day to go flying."

"Uh huh." Ronon remained unimpressed. "How was your date?"

John stopped and whirled at the same time, almost pitching himself to the floor. "My what?"

"Your date," Ronon repeated. "With Rory."

John ran his hand through his hair, at a complete loss for words. What was Ronon thinking? "It wasn't a date!" he protested. "It was a flying lesson!"

Ronon blinked. "There was food, right?"

"Yes, but--"

"You took her somewhere nice where no one would bother you."

"That's not the point--"

"It was the one time this week when you knew McKay couldn't go along."

The fluttering in John's stomach threatened to heave out of control. "It was the only time this week Rory was free--"

"She's your type, isn't she?"

This last comment pulled John up short. "What?"

"Your type," Ronon repeated. "Dark hair, light eyes, skinny, smarter than you."

John stared at him. "I don't have a type," he stammered.

Ronon crossed his arms over his chest. He looked wholly unconvinced. "Nancy?"

"That's different--"

"Chaya? Teer?"

"You have no idea--"

"Elizabeth?"

John froze, adrenaline surging through his veins at the mention of Elizabeth.

Ronon went on, which was strange in itself because Ronon wasn't a big talker, unless he happened to be ripping John's life apart. "Doesn't bother me. Just don't let McKay find out." With that, he turned and headed back down the hall, taking the tattered remains of John's good day with him.

It hadn't been a date, John told himself fiercely. It had just been a nice day where two adults had happened to have a picnic and laughed over some funny stories on a sandy tropical beach while John had spent an inordinate amount of energy preventing himself from imagining what Rory might look like if she let her hair down over her shoulders--

Fuck.

John refused to let himself hyperventilate. Ronon might have had the wrong idea, but that didn't mean Rory would. John needed to find someone who would see things from Rory's point of view, who would reassure him that things were fine.

Like Teyla. John needed to find Teyla. Teyla would make everything better. Teyla always made everything better.

However, the woman who answered John's knock did not look as if she could improve anyone's day. Torren's red-faced screaming only served to emphasize Teyla's exhaustion as she stared up at John. "What?" she demanded.

"What's wrong?" John asked, confused and a little alarmed. "You look horrible."

Teyla shifted Torren to her other arm, but the baby's crying did not abate. "He is chewing free a tooth," Teyla said. John could hear the frustration in her voice. "He has not slept for longer than twenty minutes in a day."

"Maybe he's sick? Have you taken him to see Keller?" John asked. Teyla almost wilted at the suggestion. "Or I could do it." Something prompted John to keep speaking, anything to get that frustration out of Teyla's voice. "Why don't you give him to me and get some sleep? If there's something wrong I can get Keller to page you, and if not I can keep him occupied while you sleep."

The gratitude on Teyla's face almost erased John's trepidation for what he had suggested. "Could you?"

Before John could reply or think to take back his offer, Teyla shoved Torren into John's arms, quickly followed by the babysitter's bag. "Is there anything you want me to tell Keller?" John asked as Teyla herded him towards the door.

"No, just that Torren will not sleep." Teyla shooed them into the hallway. "Could you possibly keep him for an hour? Or maybe two?"

She was already fading. John tightened his grip on the miserable baby. He was a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Air Force. He could handle one infant for a few hours. "Why don't you sleep it out?" he suggested. "We'll keep an eye on this little guy."

The fervor of Teyla's gratitude startled John, but then the door closed and John was left with a loud, unhappy baby.

John jiggled the baby, but that only increased Torren's volume. His skin was flushed, with various fluids leaking from his mouth, nose and eyes.

Ew.

"Come on," John said, holding Torren securely around the middle and trying to ignore the bodily fluids getting on his uniform. "We'll get Doc Keller to check you out and if you're sick, we'll call your mommy."

Torren's only response was to gnaw on his fist.

The doctor was in, and she looked up startled when John stopped in front of her desk and held out the baby at arm's length. "Help," John said.

"What's wrong?" Jennifer asked, rising with alacrity. She motioned him to bring Torren over to an exam table. "Where's Teyla?"

"Trying to get some sleep," John said, cradling Torren's head as he laid the boy down. "She said Torren hasn't slept more than twenty minutes at a stretch for over a day."

"Any signs of fever?" Keller took Torren's temperature with the little ear-thing John could never name. This only served to make the baby crankier. "Is he vomiting?"

"Teyla said that he just won't sleep," John said, worry clawing at his stomach. Did babies do this? Scream while they were teething? The nanny had always taken care of John's little brother Dave when Dave was a baby, keeping him out of sight of the family. "Is he going to be okay?"

Keller felt the boy's tummy, then ran a gloved finger inside his mouth to feel his gums. "There you are," she murmured, wincing as Torren chomped down. She managed to remove her finger from his mouth without losing a digit. "The tooth is almost out. The first one is always the hardest."

"It's just teething?" John asked, not certain he believed her.

"Well, he's not running a temperature, and there is no sign of illness," Keller said. "His belly feels fine. He should work through this."

John blinked. "But the crying and the snot and the insomnia?"

Keller shrugged. "If he's awake for another hour, bring him back for observation and I'll call Teyla, but I think he'll manage to sleep soon." She gathered the baby up and deposited him into John's arms. "As for the teething, try a popsicle."

"A what?"

"Popsicle," Keller repeated. "The mess has popsicles in the freezer. Let Torren chew on it for a while. The cold should help numb the gums." She patted Torren's cheek. "And you should really blow his nose."

Thus summarily dismissed, John found himself in the hallway once again with a cranky, sticky baby.

"For crying out loud," John muttered. He fished the life signs detector out of his pocket. The thing was indestructible and waterproof, and what Teyla didn't know wouldn't hurt her. "Here, gnaw on this for a while."

Torren stuck the rounded corner of the device in his mouth and proceeded to drool all over it, chewing on the plastic with all his might.

John wanted to cry. Why was he the one stuck holding the baby? He wasn't any good with kids, especially crying ones who refused to sleep. He quickly swung through the mess hall to grab the prescribed popsicle and a handful of napkins. Rather than disturb everyone, he headed to a nearby balcony before letting Torren have at the popsicle.

The baby wasn't sure what to make of the cold sweet object. He tried to grab it, but then seemed content to let John hold the popsicle as he gummed at it. His loud vocal complaints soon gave way to soft baby mumbles.

At least he stopped crying, John thought in relief. It probably wasn't all that healthy for a baby to ingest that much pure sugar, but once in a while couldn't hurt.

Most amazingly of all, after about ten minutes, Torren began to nod off. Five minutes after that, he was asleep.

Thank god, John thought, putting the melting popsicle aside and trying to wipe Torren's face clean without getting more goo on his uniform.

A low chuckle drew John's attention. "You look like you've gone ten rounds and lost," Sam Carter said softly, making her way across the balcony.

John pointed at Torren with his free hand. "The kid's a natural," he whispered. "Something I can do for you?"

"Nothing urgent," Sam said, sitting beside John on the balcony. "I just got off the line with the SGC. The IOA wants to send the Daedalus back to Pegasus on a regular basis."

John frowned, shifting Torren higher up on his chest. "Is that a good idea?"

"My thoughts exactly." Sam rested her head on the pillar behind her, blonde hair slipping out of her ponytail. "McKay says his team has found all the drones, but..."

"But he said that once before," John finished for her. His bruises from the last battle with the drones had faded, but his memory supplied a vivid replay of the sharp metal spikes slicing into his skin, the electricity shooting through him, stopping his heart. Lorne and Stackhouse had hauled his dead body off the metal platform and performed CPR on him, starting his heart again.

John's hands were shaking. Carefully, he covered Torren's back with his palm, wondering distantly how any human being could be so small and so perfect. The baby sighed in his sleep.

Sam had seen John's momentary lapse, how could she not? But she didn't say anything and for that, John would gladly follow her anywhere. "We have to start somewhere," she said. "Bringing the Daedalus out regularly would be a controlled way to keep a military presence in the galaxy. With Michael out there, we need all the help we can get."

"Yeah," John said, breathing through the flashback with a smile for his commanding officer. See, I'm fine. "Sounds good to me."

Sam pulled out her computer. John managed to hold in his sigh. Of course. Sam Carter was never far away from work. "If you have a few minutes, I'd like to discuss the current military structure. If we start rotating more personnel Earth-side, I'd like to have a few alternative staffing plans."

What could John say? "I'm all yours," he said with a smile. Their conversation on staffing more resembled a game of Risk than real work. Torren spent the entire time drooling on John's shirt.

~~~

John wandered the halls of Atlantis with a wakeful Torren, his left foot all pins-and-needles from sitting on the balcony for over an hour. He had forgotten how single-minded Sam could be in a one-on-one conversation on military tactics.

"Of course, she's the boss. All she has to do is tell us to do stuff, and it gets done," John confided in Torren. The boy blinked up at John with sleepy eyes as he chewed on the edge of the life signs detector. "It must be nice to be in charge."

Torren yawned.

"Hopefully your mom is getting some sleep," John said, heading towards the stairs. "You're not helping her with this no sleeping, buster. A single mom's life needs all the breaks it can get."

Something nudged at the back of John's mind, the reminder that now that the drones were gone they should start looking for the Athosians again, but he pushed the idea away. Lorne and Carter were dealing with that while John focused on returning the city to full military readiness.

Yeah. That was it.

John stopped at the foot of the stairs and looked at Torren. The baby had Teyla's dark eyes and her nose and chin, but his lighter skin and dark curls belonged to his father, a man John had only met a few times and didn't even like that much.

A man who might never know his son.

John brushed the hair back from Torren's forehead. The boy seemed oblivious, chewing on the life signs detector and gazing around like Atlantis was the most fascinating thing in the universe. "You really do have the best mom," John said quietly. He knew Torren wouldn't understand a word he said, but it didn't matter. "We're going to find your father. I promise."

Torren's dark gaze slid off the walls and fixed itself on John's face. He laughed and reached out with tiny baby fingers for John's chin.

John pushed away the tangled emotions in his head. His life always went to hell when emotion was involved. He was so much better at dealing with facts. Like Teyla needed some sleep, and Torren would just keep on teething and there wasn't anything anyone could do about it but wait.

And that John had inadvertently taken Rodney McKay's daughter on a date that very afternoon.

John shifted Torren up higher on his shoulder, to give the boy a better viewpoint. "While we're speaking man to man here, what am I going to do, huh?" he asked. "Got any advice for an old man?"

Torren chortled at being up high, dropping the life signs detector. John caught that with his spare hand before it bounced down the stairs.

"Throwing things only works when you're cute enough to get out of anything." John pocketed the life signs detector. "Maybe she didn't see it as a date."

Torren blew a raspberry.

"You're right." Even if John didn't know much about women, he was pretty sure that if Ronon had thought it was a date, then Rory would too. "Maybe if I don't bring it up again, she'll forget it happened?"

Unless she thinks you're a pervert for taking her on the Jumper trip, John's mind suggested. Because if any of his father's friends had taken him on a flying trip and brought sandwiches, John might have jumped out of the plane mid-trip.

Even as he shuddered at that mental image, John immediately found a loophole in the comparison. His father had been thirty when John was born, and all the man's friends had been lawyers and businessmen, whom John found repellent on principle. Rory was only fifteen years his junior and she didn't seem all that put off by military men.

"And I did save her life the first time I saw her," John told Torren. "If I hadn't grabbed her arm before she fell into the road, she'd be dead."

One of the marvels of genetics was that Torren had inherited Teyla's ability to label John a moron with a level gaze and a twitch of the mouth. Or maybe that was gas.

"And it's not like it's against the rules," John said before he realized that he was trying to justify his own lechery. "Except that Rodney would probably kill me."

Because that was the crux of it. Even if John was enough of a dirty old man to go after Rory, and even if Rory would go for a guy like him, Rodney would murder John. Their friendship had strained almost to breaking because John hadn't told Rodney about Rory's suspect paternity for all those years. If John took one step towards Rory like that, Rodney would most likely see it as a betrayal of his trust.

"Even if it wasn't," John mused. Torren stuck his fingers in his mouth, making little sucking noises. "What am I going to do?"

The glare Torren shot him was answer enough.

"One baby bottle coming up," John said. "As soon as I can find a place to put you down."

Unfortunately, the only place he could find with a stable surface in the immediate vicinity was Rodney's lab.

"Hey, McKay, can I borrow your couch for a little while?" John asked, edging into the room.

Rodney didn't take his hands off the keyboard. "Just don't bug me," he muttered.

John shrugged. He'd had enough practice in feeding Torren that he didn't need to pester McKay. The mechanics of getting the bottle ready and feeding Torren didn't make much noise. Nor did burping the baby after he was done, nor the inevitable changing of the diaper. Seeing McKay still busy with work, John pulled up a movie on a disused computer as he waited for Torren to fall asleep again.

McKay typed, Torren's eyes slowly blinked closed, and by the time the movie ended, John had talked himself off the dangerous precipice of considering his afternoon with Rory Gilmore as a date. There were a million reasons why it was a bad idea, and only one reason it might have been okay.

And liking a girl with dark hair and light eyes and a beautiful smile had never been enough to destroy his life in the past. Now was not the time to start.

"And that's the way it is," John murmured to the sleeping Torren.

Soothed by the clatter of McKay's feverish typing and the scientists ranting deeper in the room, John Sheppard fell asleep.

~~~

Teyla found her son exactly where she had expected - in Rodney McKay's lab. What she had not expected was the sight that met her eyes. John Sheppard lay sprawled on the couch, Torren sleeping on his chest. One of John's hands rested on Torren's back, holding the baby safe.

Teyla's mouth twisted up in a smile. While she didn't often think of John Sheppard as cute, she did wish she had a way of preserving this memory.

Rodney noticed her enter the room. "Hi," he said in what for him was a quiet voice. "They've been there for hours. I was tempted to make them leave, but the adorable factor made the scientists work harder. Plus they kept Jones from ranting at full volume."

"I am glad," Teyla said. She had felt guilty for shoving her cranky son on John earlier, but five uninterrupted hours of sleep had softened the edges of that emotion. "Your work goes well?"

"Finally." Rodney offered her his half-eaten granola bar, a peace offering. Teyla took a bite and passed it back. "I emailed you the pictures."

"The pictures of what?"

"Of that disgusting level of adorability," Rodney said, gesturing with the granola bar. "Simpson made me get photographic evidence."

"Thank you," Teyla said. She laid her hand on Rodney's arm in gratitude for a moment, then crossed the room to the couch. Taking care to kneel out of the Colonel's reach, she called out, "John?"

John's eyes opened instantly, hand tightening on Torren's back and his other arm going up in a protective posture. His eyes focused on Teyla, but still he blinked hard before he lowered his arm. "Hey," he said in a rough voice. He sat up, cradling Torren carefully. "You okay?"

"I am well," Teyla replied. She sat on the couch at John's side. "You?"

"Yeah." John rubbed his face with his free hand. "I saw Keller, she said Torren's fine."

"Good." Teyla touched her son's cheek. "Thank you for watching him this afternoon."

John shrugged, but Teyla saw the way his expression softened when he looked down at Torren, still fast asleep. Teyla hid her smile. John liked to think that he was mysterious and aloof, but she could always read his every emotion. "It was cool. We hung out, watched some movies, talked cars and football." John's gaze slid over to Rodney, who was pretending very hard that he was not listening to them. "McKay could probably be convinced to make Torren a little toy car to ride around, after we finish the wagon."

"John..."

"Black, with white racing stripes?"

Rodney abandoned his computer. "Do you think we could rig a suspension from those scraps of metal we found in the east pier basement?" he asked John.

"We don't need a suspension, just a simple steering mechanism. He'll have to Fred Flintstone it. Unless we make it a pedal car?"

"John," Teyla interrupted sternly. "I feel it might be best that Torren start walking before I will consider letting him into any sort of vehicle."

John slumped back against the couch, dejected, but Rodney was not deterred. "He's already teething, so he'll be walking in what, three months? The wagon just needs one more coat of paint and it's ready to go. If I can get Valdeo to part with the gears from that MALP they're going to scrap, the car could be ready by summer."

Teyla gave up. She extracted her son from John's grasp and left the boys to their plans. As she passed through the doors, she heard John's voice rise in excitement. Teyla could not help but smile. It had been too long since John and Rodney had a scheme to keep them busy on their rare off-hours.

Torren squirmed against Teyla's chest, his dark eyes opening slowly. When he saw her, his face lit up into a beatific smile as if she was the centre of his entire universe.

Teyla's heart melted. This was her son, part of her very being, and he was growing healthy and happy and safe from the Wraith. She lifted him higher in her arms, kissing his cheek as he wrapped his chubby arms around her neck. "I hope you had a good sleep," she said. Athosians always spoke to their children as if they were full partners in the conversation, a trick that Teyla had seen John adopt. "Your presence today has done John a great deal of good."

Torren gave voice to a string of syllables, ending on a high note. Teyla recognized the sounds as he had made them before. She mimicked them back to him, and he laughed.

"Thank you for taking care of John," Teyla said. "I admit I was in no shape to deal with him this afternoon."

For she had known what the man wanted as soon as she had answered the door. John had scheduled that afternoon to teach Rory Gilmore to fly a Puddlejumper. When she had seen him, he had been completely panicked. It was the same panic he displayed whenever someone expressed an interest in him off-world, or when he realized that he had an interest in someone.

Remembering John's expression, Teyla sighed. "I do hope that he does what is right," she said to Torren. For she knew how highly John valued Rodney's friendship, and she suspected that for all Rodney could forgive John, a relationship with Rodney's daughter was not on the list.

She wondered what Rory's intentions were towards John, and might have gone in search of the girl right then, but Torren started to make hungry noises and Teyla's attention was distracted.

~~~

Rory found Rodney in the mess hall the next morning, hair flying and eyes wild as he ate with one hand, paging through a report with the other. "Good night?" she guessed.

Rodney never looked up. "Still busy," he snapped.

Rory ignored his tone as she joined him. "I had my first Jumper flying lesson yesterday."

"Hmm." Rodney tapped at the computer screen for a few minutes. "Hit anything?"

"No."

"Almost hit anything?"

"She was a natural," John said, sliding into a chair beside Rodney. He winked at Rory. "She flew better than Lorne."

Rodney lifted his head long enough to glare at John. "She did not."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence, Dad," Rory said. She made the mistake of looking directly at John. His smile was infectious, a slow brilliant grin that knocked all intelligent conversation out of Rory's head.

"She's good!" John protested. "Same as you on your first flight."

Rodney dropped his computer. "My first flight sucked!"

"It wasn't that bad," John mumbled, sinking down in his chair.

"No, I specifically recall you saying that my first flight sucked."

"I didn't use that exact phrase," John said.

"And I quote, 'Elizabeth, his flying sucked.' End quote."

"I would never speak to Elizabeth like that!"

"Same sentiment!"

"McKay!"

"Gentlemen," Rory interrupted. They broke off their bickering. "Perhaps we can all agree that the flying lesson shows I should stick with the theoretical."

"Does not," John retorted. "Practice makes perfect."

"Or perhaps I should stick with my strengths?"

"If you never go back up, you'll never know if you can improve," John shot back. "We need all the pilots we can get."

"If you end up needing my skills as a pilot, we'll be in trouble."

"Or we may end up needing your skills as a pilot when we're in trouble." John's joking manner bled away, leaving a colder certainty that sent a sliver of fear down Rory's spine. True, she'd already saved the city once in her months here, and heard the stories of what dangers lurked in Atlantis, but she wasn't sure she was up to the sudden challenge in John's Sheppard's eyes.

Rodney fell silent, looking between Rory and John with a curious expression on his face.

The worst part was that John wasn't wrong. For Rory not to improve skills that might save people's lives would be worse than negligent. It would be cowardly.

What would Vala do? Rory asked herself. The answer was so obvious that Rory wanted to kick herself. Vala would keep going back into the cockpit until she could fly a Jumper with wisecracking nonchalance. Rory could do no less.

Of course, Vala would also spend her time flirting with John Sheppard, but Rory had spent the previous night making a six-page list as to why she would not go there.

Rory took a deep breath and met John's gaze. "Maybe Major Lorne might be able to schedule me for a few flying lessons, if he has time," she said.

John held her eyes for a long moment. "Sure, we can put that on his to-do list," he finally said. "Or Sgt. Stackhouse. He's one of the best pilots we have."

"What about Henderson?" McKay interjected.

John picked up his coffee cup with a jerky motion. "Henderson transferred back to Earth on the Daedalus. He's been gone for days."

Rodney stared. "What the hell are you talking about?"

"You were at the going-away party!"

"Not for long!"

"And we talked about this before the Daedalus left!"

"You can't assume that I listen to everything you say--"

"Or anything I say."

"Who are we getting to replace him?"

"Why do you care?"

"Because the military engineers are partially under my jurisdiction!"

"And yet you didn't know he was going back to Earth?"

"Because you didn't tell me--"

John set his cup down hard. "Who's on first?"

Rodney stopped mid-rant. "What?"

"No, What's on second."

"I don't know what you're talking--"

"Third base," John and Rory said at the same time. Rory made the mistake of looking at John, and she couldn't hold back her giggle.

Rodney shook his head. "Don't talk to me, I have work to do," he said in a huff, bending back over his computer.

John's laughing grin only strengthened Rory's resolve. She would not think of John Sheppard as anything other than her father's friend and the expedition's military commander. No matter what Carlos thought, the Jumper lesson the previous day had not been a date.

It was for the best.

And if Rory tried very hard, she could ignore the hollow sensation in her chest that her decision caused.
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