[identity profile] sgasesa-admin.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] sga_santa
Title: Moving On
Author: [livejournal.com profile] moose_happy
Recipient: [livejournal.com profile] gaffsie
Pairing: pre- John/Caldwell, John/Nancy, brief mention of McKay/Keller, and technically Dave Sheppard and his wife :-P
Rating: R
World Count: ~10,000 (a little under)
Disclaimer: Not my characters. Not my world. Definitely not any money made from them.
Author's Notes: Gaffsie gave me a lot of "ors" and I turned it into a lot of "ands..." You've got post-EatG, John-centric fic with homages to Vegas. He's reconnecting with Dave and going through emotional times with Caldwell and Nancy in the meanwhile. Angsty but ultimately happy, and hopefully not too "self-centered" John. As a side note, knowledge of SGU "Seizure" is helpful but not necessary. Just know that McKay and Woolsey screwed up royally with some SGC allies.
Summary: Atlantis may not be lost, but she's lost to John. So are most of his friends and family. Maybe it's time to buck up and do something about his life.

---

John Sheppard gripped the railing of the balcony off of Atlantis' conference room, staring unseeingly out at the Pacific. He wasn't sure which would give first - his knuckles, or his gritted teeth - but he just prayed no one would join him, because his temper would certainly go.

"Sheppard."

Shit. Steven Caldwell was the last person he needed to see.

"Colonel," he responded tightly, straightening his back slightly but not turning away from the ocean.

"Sheppard, I'm sorry." Caldwell held his hands out, when John turned a glare in his direction, palms upturned placatingly. "It wasn't my idea."

John squeezed his eyes shut and sucked in a deep breath then let it out slowly, counting to ten. "I know."

"It's IOA politics. Dr. McKay and Mr. Woolsey screwed up with Langara and you-"

John's careful hold snapped, and he spun around. "Don't fucking talk to me about McKay, or Woolsey for that matter. They took the fall for doing what the IOA told them to do, and I haven't heard from either of them in fucking weeks and-" John cut himself off, realizing he was in his superior officer's face, entirely insubordinate. He spun back towards the sea. "Sorry. Sir."

"And now you're taking the fall for working so closely with them both. For no reason other than that you were the top three on Atlantis." The older man's hand landed on John's shoulder, squeezed gently. "It's not fair. You belong on Atlantis. You and McKay both, and maybe Woolsey too."

John grunted, swallowing twice before he could respond calmly. "Funny hearing that from you, Sir."

"It's the truth," Caldwell replied, and John could feel the shrug the other man gave before he removed his hand from John's shoulder. "General O'Neill, Carter, and I all fought for you, but I don't think the IOA loves any of us at the moment. In less extreme ways, we're all being punished for the crap going on with the Lucian Alliance."

John nodded. "So how much do you know? Am I obsolete now?"

Caldwell sighed. "I suspect they'll offer you a team at the SGC. Maybe first contact, since you have that experience, or maybe scientific, since you have the gene."

"And meanwhile Atlantis goes back to Pegasus without me."

Caldwell took a step forward and stood next to John, resting his own hands on the railing and turning his face towards the setting sun. "You want my advice, son?"

John hesitated. "Yeah, might as well hit me with it." He could always decide not to follow it.

"Don't take an SGC job. Your career's done. It's been done for a long time." Caldwell raised a calming hand when John started to bristle. "Wait. You know it's true. It was done when you got sent to Antarctica and you got lucky with Atlantis. I'm not criticizing you, because heaven knows you did amazing things in Pegasus, but the SGC is going to have to pander to the IOA for a while. You might be given full-bird colonel, just because of the crazy shit you've done and, eventually, time in service, but it'll just be a title. You'll never be given another command, because no one outside the SGC will accept the record blemishes, and you'll never go back to Atlantis. Oh, you'll find a little bit of job satisfaction leading an SGC team, but you'll see it as a stop-gap until you find your way back to Pegasus, and that's not going to happen this time. So don't lie to yourself."

John narrowed his eyes. "Are you getting Atlantis?"

Caldwell laughed. "No, and I don't want it. Either Carter or I will be given fleet command, and the other will be given the SGC when Landry moves on. If Atlantis is lucky, the military will be turned over to Lorne. If it's unlucky, it'll be some foreign officer. And I never thought I'd hear myself say so, but best case scenario there is a Russian."

John closed his eyes. "They've picked someone. I just don't know who it is, but those papers the IOA witch handed me say my duty's up in two weeks." He hesitated. "That change of command ceremony is going to suck. I have to go pack. Sir." And say goodbye to Atlantis. He offered a weak salute, then turned and headed for the nearest transporter.

~~~


John stood at attention in front of Hank Landry's (former) desk, deep within Cheyenne Mountain. The desk was covered with boxes, and Landry was shuffling through the disarray, trying to find the folders on John's new team. Atlantis had lifted off for Pegasus the day after the change of command, a full month earlier, when John had turned the military operations over to one Petriona Cotter, Wing Commander in the RAF. Landry would be shipping out on the Daedalus tomorrow, set to take over senior command of Atlantis in conjunction with the "IOA witch," Shen Xiaoyi. Newly-promoted Brigadier General Sam Carter'd already been given official command of the SGC, but she was as lost as John amidst Landry's 'unique' organizing system. She stood off to the side as well, watching him rifle through the papers and folders.

"Here we go!" Landry stood with an uncharacteristic flourish, gripping three folders. "Dr. Peter Kavanaugh, Captain Carl Grogan, and Sergeant Jennifer Paulson. Now, Sam, if the two of you wouldn't mind..." Landry handed the folders to the other General and motioned to the door. "I have to continue packing up so you can have the office."

John followed Carter into the adjacent briefing room, hoping she could feel his glare boring into her skull.

"John..." Her tone was resigned as she turned to face him.

"PETER KAVANAUGH?!"

"Please don't start with me." She dropped the folders on the table and rubbed her temples. "I'd love to give you another Rodney McKay, but they're few and far between. Peter is a good scientist and a decent man. He's just not good with people."

John shook his head angrily. "He's also the IOA's bitch, and you know that."

"John, I'm the IOA's bitch right now. This stuff with Destiny has been bad enough, so we have to go and make it worse with the Langara fuck up? I can't wipe my own ass without getting approval from the IOA. Of course they want someone keeping tabs on you. You're lucky you're here at all. Why do you think we gave you a whole month of down time? While you were off doing whatever, we were fighting for your job."

John winced. At first he'd gone back east, hoping to visit Dave, but only Dave's wife and kids had been around. Three days of that had been awkard enough, so he'd booked a flight to Hawaii with half-serious intentions of surfing, but had spent most of the time trying to track down Rodney. Even Jeannie hadn't known where he was, and the people who might know, like Sam, wouldn't or couldn't talk.

"Sorry. Who are the other two?"

"Grogan's been with the program since '02, when he was just a kid. He's a good guy to have on your team. Paulson is new, but she seems solid. It'll be up to you and Grogan to make sure she gets confident in the field. You'll primarily be off-world research; even the IOA isn't stupid enough to have Kavanaugh do first contact." Sam crooked a wry half smile at him.

John groaned. "Do they know?"

Sam glanced at the clock on the back wall. "They're due here in fifteen minutes. Glance through the files. I'll stick around to introduce you, but then I have to go over some inventory and passenger manifests with Steven."

John nodded. "It could be worse, right? At least they're letting me go off-world."

Sam's smile turned sympathetic, but she just nodded in agreement.

~~~


John sank down on the bed in his quarters. Daniel Jackson had tried to hook John up with an apartment in his building, and various other people had offered help him find a place in Colorado Springs, but John wasn't yet ready for the permanence of that. Most of his "stuff" was in storage back east. The few things he needed fit fine in SGC quarters - better than in his room on Atlantis, in fact. He was on the same hall as Teal'c, and he actually kind of enjoyed hanging out in the common room with the big man and various other "alien" employees. So he got claustrophobic occasionally. It wasn't like he never left the mountain. So maybe Caldwell was right. Maybe he was still hoping to go back to Atlantis. He didn't have to let go of his dreams quite yet, right?

John dropped his head into his hands, his elbows braced on his knees. No, now would be a really bad time to give up on his dreams. He needed those just to survive his team. Which in theory wasn't terrible; he and Kavanaugh had been through hell together, and without Rodney or Elizabeth to aggravate things, they could work together tolerably well. Grogan was as good as Sam had said, and seemed like he could get along with anybody. But Paulson, Christ. On her own and in the books, she was fine. But paired up with Kavanaugh? All kinds of bad things waiting to happen. And when Kavanaugh provoked her, she could screech like a banshee.

He was supposed to be in the infirmary, being prodded by Lam or one of her lackeys, but his head couldn't take it if both Kavanaugh and Paulson were in there. The last mission had been a comedy of errors. They'd gone to some ruins that were supposed to contain Ancient tech, on a now-deserted planet. Grogan was good at letting Kavanaugh do his thing, and John could even help out occasionally, but Paulson had a painful tendency to get bored...

They were surrounded by a weird combination of Hellenistic-like stone ruins and advanced (if mostly non-functioning) machines. Grogan was propped against a nearby column, appearing to doze but probably totally alert, given how long he'd lasted in the SGC. Kavanaugh was under/inside a strange console, messing with crystals. The base was carved from heavy stone, but the very center of the podium and the actual console were all seamless metal. The workings were the usual Ancient crystals, and John had been doing his best to power the station up while Kavanaugh rearranged crystals when the gunshots sounded in the distance.

Kavanaugh's head came up fast and hit the console with a crack, eliciting a single groan before he slumped back to the floor.

"Shit. Grogan, go check on Paulson." The female marine had been establishing a perimeter, and the gunfire had no doubt come from her, but John had to make sure his scientist was ok. He squatted down next to the console and, stabilizing Kavanaugh's neck, slid him slowly out into the open air.

"Sheppard?" Kavanaugh's eyes were already opening, but he was clearly having trouble focusing. "What the hell is going on?"

"Don't know yet. Grogan's checking. Need you to focus on me for a second. What month is it?"

Kavanaugh rolled his eyes, then winced. "September."

"Good. Year?"

"Too easy. 2011."

"Okay, what planet are we on?"

"I never keep track of that shit. The one with the Ancient ruins." Kavanaugh began struggling to sit up, and John helped him scoot back to lean against the podium.

"Follow my fingers with your eyes."

Kavanaugh did so without trouble, but he was pale and a light sheen of sweat had broken out on his forehead. John ran his palm gently over the back of the other man's head, earning himself a glare, and could feel where a lump was already forming.

"You probably do have a concussion, though you were only out for five or ten seconds at most. We'll need to get you back to the infirmary once we know what's going on."

"I can tell you what the hell's going on," said a breathless, angry voice from the entrance. "Paulson decided to do some hunting while we were here."

John stared at the lemming-like animal Grogan tossed at his feet, noting that he'd never heard Grogan angry before and really didn't want to again. Apparently, the man wasn't all laid-back all the time.

"Where's Paulson?"

"Until I got there, being chased by a swarm of these rodents. They seem to know no fear, and they're vicious, but once we got away from the tree line, they backed off. I told her to go dial the gate, that she was going back even if the rest of us weren't."

John nodded. "We all are. I need your help with Dr. Kavanaugh, if he can walk."


John was snapped out of replaying the events in his head by a loud knock on the door.

"Colonel. It's Grogan. Dr. Lam wants you."

John sighed, then stood and headed for the door. Grogan was on the other side, looking sheepish.

"I put her off as long as possible. I'm fine. She's keeping both Kavanaugh and Paulson for observation, though. But, she's got Paulson in isolation, so they aren't at each other's throats. She's threatening to go to Carter to get you down there."

John stepped out into the hallway, turning for the elevator. "What's wrong with Paulson?"

Grogan walked with him. "Apparently she got bitten by one of the rodents, and that's why she shot it. Lam wants to run some tests, give her a battery of Earth inoculations, and make sure nothing turns up."

John stopped at the elevators. "Alright. I guess you're headed home, then?"

"Gonna turn in my report to General Carter, then, yes, if you don't need me, Sir."

"I don't need you. Go rest, and enjoy being away from the odd couple for a week."

Grogan grinned and saluted. "Yes, Sir!"

By the time John reached the infirmary, he was realizing just how drained he was. He hoped Lam was fast, and that he could check on his team, grab some dinner, and go to bed.

"Colonel," she greeted.

"Doc."

John boosted himself onto the exam table, waiting for the usual blood draws, penlights, and thermometers. He liked Lam. She didn't get too close to you, she wasn't weird, and the tests she did made sense. She was cute, too, if young. He got why Cam Mitchell liked her, as the other colonel had confided over a beer one night.

"How're my people?"

"Peter should be right as rain in no time. I'll let him go tomorrow morning. It's not a bad concussion, but since he lives alone, I wanted to make sure someone had an eye on him." She stuck the thermometer in John's mouth. "Keep that under your tongue."

"'N Paulson?" he mumbled.

"Don't know. She's running a slight fever, and the bite is already inflamed. I've got her on broad-spectrum antibiotics, and gave her a rabies shot just in case. Who knows if rabies is interplanetary."

John nodded. "C'n I she her?"

Lam pulled the thermometer out of his mouth. "She's sleeping. And since she's in isolation, you can't actually go in. Better just to wait until morning. But you can see Peter."

"I'll do that. If we're done here?"

"We're done."

John hopped off the table and headed towards the far side of the infirmary, where a couple of private rooms had been set up. He knocked, then poked his head into Kavanaugh's.

"Hey."

Kavanaugh glared at him, setting his laptop on the side table. "What?"

"Just wanted to check in, see how the head was. You allowed to have that?" John pointed to the computer, stepping further into the room.

"I'm fine. And I told Carolyn that if she didn't let me have it, I'd bite her. What do you care?" Kavanaugh crossed his arms across his chest.

"Err. Right, well, I just wanted to see. Since you're team, and I'm responsible for you."

"Whatever," Kavanaugh muttered. "It's the rodents' fault, not yours."

"Yeah, well." John shrugged and gave a half-hearted wave. "Feel better."

He turned to head towards the commissary, pulling the scientist's door shut as he left. He threw another wave in Lam's direction before stepping into the hall, where he bumped squarely into Caldwell.

"Sheppard," Caldwell raised an eyebrow.

"Sorry, Sir, didn't see you there."

The colonel waved a dismissive hand. "No problem. How's the new team?"

John sighed. "Fifty percent of them are in there," he answered, jabbing his thumb towards the infirmary door. "And we were doing research on a deserted planet."

Caldwell chuckled. "It's always something with you, Sheppard."

"What can I say. I didn't know the Daedalus was back Earthside."

"We got back early, about five hours ago. Weren't due back until Tuesday. I keep waiting for someone to prove there are currents in FTL travel."

John laughed, and turned back to the elevators. "I'm headed to the commissary, join me?"

"Hell no, they're not serving anything of worth at this hour. But I know a good pub that keeps it's kitchen open until two on Fridays. Come on, I'll drive."

John shrugged, glancing at the other man's jeans and bomber jacket. "Five minutes to change into something other than BDUs?"

Caldwell nodded. "Take your time, I'll meet you topside."

~~~


John took a swig of his IPA, eying his mostly finished steak tips and fries and debating if there was room enough in his gut for the last few bites.

"You act as if you haven't eaten in a month, Sheppard." Caldwell was slouched back in the dingy pleather booth, playing with the beads of sweat on his own beer.

John shrugged. "I eat. It's just mostly commissary cardboard and MREs off-world."

Caldwell laughed. "I tell you, I get back from a Daedalus run, and I always go out somewhere. It doesn't have to be nice, but it has to serve real food."

John gazed around the dimly lit pub. A group of men were playing pool and a number of single men and women were sitting at the bar watching a Rockies game. Most of the other booths were empty, but a few held people trying to talk over the jukebox.

"I'll grant you, this place clearly has a good cook."

"So I take it you're having some trouble with your team?" Caldwell asked more quietly.

"Well, Kavanaugh is my scientist and-"

Caldwell's laughter cut him off. "Enough said. He's a brilliant man, but not the most personable one."

"Actually, my Captain and I do okay with him. But he and my Sergeant... Well, quite honestly, maybe they need to just fuck and get it over with already, off the record, Sir." John grinned, wondering when it had gotten so easy to talk to Caldwell. He felt almost like a friend.

"What about McKay?"

John shrugged. "I know he's working in Russia, and that he married Keller, but he won't talk to me much because he doesn't want to 'hurt my position' with the IOA. As if that could be any worse. I never found out about Woolsey."

"I can help you there. He left the program entirely. Went back to his practice in New York. By all accounts, is utterly excellent at it, and utterly miserable." Caldwell offered a sad smile. "You gonna ask about your old posting?"

John hesitated. "Do I want to?"

"I'll spare you the major details. Landry's good for it, but he and Shen Xiaoyi are constantly duking it out. The young Brit is a good commander, but her people miss you and Lorne."

John cut him off. "That's enough."

Caldwell just watched him.

"I'm really never going back, am I?"

"Not as a member of the US military, no."

John sighed and stabbed a steak fry into the pool of ketchup on his plate. "What about you? What happened to becoming a general and fleet commander?"

Caldwell shook his head. "I don't know. But at this rate, by the time they get around to appointing someone, I'll be too old." Caldwell smiled at the young blond waitress and handed her his credit card when she appeared at their table. "I'll get this one, Sheppard."

John hesitated, his wallet halfway out of his back pocket. "I can cover my part..."

"I know. But I appreciated the company. Eating alone gets tiresome after a while."

John nodded, glancing at his watch.

"Where are you living these days? Or is your car back on base?"

John blushed. "I'm living in the mountain."

Caldwell barked a laugh. "And I thought I was bad. At least I have a 'bachelor pad.' Will they let you back in after midnight?"

"No, but I can grab a room at the Travelodge, if you'll drop me there."

"Don't be ridiculous," the older man said, shaking his head and pushing up from the booth. "I've got a couch. It's surprisingly comfortable. I've passed out there watching TV plenty a night."

John followed the colonel back to the old black Dodge Ram and climbed in, leaning his head against the window after he'd pulled the door shut. He let out a jaw-cracking yawn.

"We'll have you home in a jiff, sleeping beauty," Caldwell cracked.

"You know," John smirked, "you're not half the prick I used to think you were."

"Well, thank you. I think."

John nodded generously. "All it took was the caving in of the rest of my world for me to figure that out."

Caldwell said nothing for a bit, eyes trained on the road and fingers closed lightly around the shifter and wheel.

"You got any family, Sheppard?"

"Atlantis was my family. The SGC... isn't."

Caldwell shook his bald head, the glare from the red light gleaming off of it. "No. Real family."

"Well. You remember my dad died back when we had that replicator thing... I have a brother, but we aren't close. And an ex-wife. We obviously aren't close, either."

"Family's important, kid," Caldwell replied, pulling the pick-up into a parking lot outside a condominium complex. "My wife died shortly before I took command of the Daedalus. Terminal cancer. It took a long time for it to happen, too. Our boys are - were - grown and gone, and there's never been much love lost between us. Her death didn't really help things, even though I wanted to patch things up. If ever I had a stick up my ass... You could probably blame that."

John watched Caldwell, waiting for a cue. "Sorry," he said softly.

The other man shook his head and started to get out of the truck. "No apologies needed. Just understanding."

John followed the colonel to an apartment around back of one of the buildings. It was over-furnished, clearly crammed with the furniture and memories of a bigger family home.

"I guess you get the lonely thing, then," he said softly, looking around.

Caldwell nodded, walking towards a closet in the back hallway, where he grabbed a pillow and a pile of blankets. "It's different when you've had kids. The Daedalus crew is sort of a surrogate family to me, but I don't have anyone like your team was to you, and then there are my real kids out there somewhere." He tossed the pillow to John, then grabbed a towel as well and carried the linens over to the couch. "Here. Make yourself comfortable. The bathroom is right across from that linen closet. If you need me, I'm the only other door in the hall."

"Thanks. Uh, can I get some water?"

"Yeah. Here." Caldwell walked over to the dishwasher in the galley style kitchen and grabbed a glass. "It's clean. Don't think there were any left in the cabinet. Feel free to make coffee in the morning if I'm not up, but that's not likely. Sleep well."

John hung his jacket on the coat rack by the door and kicked his sneakers against the wall, then went to work spreading the blankets out over the couch. He'd been convinced he'd be asleep in seconds, but even though the couch was comfortable, his mind was racing. He lay there, tossing and turning and wishing there were easy answers to all his problems. He didn't have kids, but he did have two nieces he'd only met the once before heading of to Hawaii and a sister-in-law he barely knew. Not to mention a brother he hadn't seen since their father's funeral and who, in reality, probably still wasn't very fond of him. His job had peaked and was no longer satisfying, and, for God's sake, he lived in a mountain. His last lay had been a space pirate who was a little too into bondage, and not always interested in being Atlantis' ally. He was the wrong side of 40, and maybe it was finally time to be proactive with his life.

~~~


He didn't remember falling asleep, but he must have, because next thing he was aware, the smell of coffee had permeated the apartment and Caldwell was walking around in nothing but a pair of low slung jeans. John grunted and forced himself upright, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

"Morning," Caldwell said, wandering over from the kitchen with an extra cup of coffee.

"Thanks," John said, inhaling the scent of coffee that wasn't commissary sludge. Occasionally, he'd filch from Jackson, but he never bothered to make his own. "What time is it?"

"8:30. Figured I'd let you sleep."

John nodded his gratitude, and studied Caldwell, who had settled into an oversized recliner, over the rim of his mug. The man's body belonged to someone twenty years younger, and he was the first person in a while John had really felt comfortable talking to.

"Don't look at me like that, John."

John just raised an eyebrow and blew on his coffee.

Caldwell laughed. "Don't get me wrong. I'm not a hard-ass about things like that, and I am lonely, but it wouldn't be good for either one of us."

"Why not?"

"Call me Steven."

John blanched.

"There's our first problem," Caldwell laughed. "The second is that we're both screwed up and lonely, and that only ever ends disastrously."

John sighed and slouched back into the corner of the couch. "You're not wrong," he acknowledged.

"I rarely am," Caldwell smirked.

John sipped at his coffee for a moment, then bit the bullet so to speak. "What if I resign my commission." It wasn't a question.

"I believe I gave you that advice months ago. Unless you're still asking about you and me, in which case-"

"I'm not," John interrupted. "And yeah. I guess I just had to figure it out for myself."

"What would you do?"

John stared at the wall, feeling his pulse pick up speed. The very idea made him nervous. "Go home."

~~~


When he'd gone back to work in the Mountain, John had bought a rusty 1970s Chevy Camaro, just to make sure he had a way of getting around. Now, he was pulling that Camaro into his brother's drive (after coaxing it across the country), and the nerves were eating away at his stomach. Sam hadn't been particularly surprised when John had resigned, and while she'd said she'd miss him, she'd accepted the resignation without argument.

Dave had sold their dad's sprawling house and acreage, choosing to live instead in an old brick Colonial. It was equally large, but more imposing, darker and surrounded by woods rather than open land. It was strange not to just glance across a carefully groomed paddock to the barn, but John knew that the few horses his dad had still kept had been moved to the farm Dave and his wife, Carol, owned, less than a mile further outside of town.

John cut the engine and climbed out of the car, leaving his backpack and duffel inside for the moment. He still wasn't sure he was actually going to stay.

"John!" Younger, blonder, clean-cut Dave stood on the front porch, waving. His smile wasn't comfortable, but it didn't seem forced, either.

"Hey," John responded, walking across the drive to greet his brother. There was a moment of awkwardness and flailing arms while they tried to decide whether to hug or shake, and finally John just gave in and pulled his brother in for a hug. "Hey."

"It's good to see you, John."

"Yeah. You, too."

"Carol and the kids are in the rec room. I know you got a tour of the house when you visited them; I'm sorry I wasn't here then. Shall we?"

John nodded and let his brother, perfectly outfitted in chinos and a blue polo even on his day off, lead him towards the back of the house.

"Hey, kiddos," Dave called. "You remember your uncle John?"

The girls nodded, although John doubted that Sadie, three, really did.

"Uncle John, Uncle John!" Ginny jumped up and ran over to tug on the bottom of his cargo shorts.

"Virginia!" Carol sounded scandalized. She was just as proper as Dave, though perhaps more tolerant.

"What's up, girl?" John squatted down so that he was eye level with his niece.

"I had a birthday!"

"Oh yeah? How old are you now?"

"Six!"

"Wow, I'm impressed! Pretty soon you'll be all grown up!"

"I hope not," Dave muttered. "Ginny, don't you remember the nice card your Uncle John sent you?"

Ginny frowned at her father. "Yes," she very obviously lied. "It was... pink!"

John laughed and ruffled her hair. "That's right, it was."

Carol rolled her eyes and pushed up off the floor with a grunt, hand resting on her very pregnant belly. "All of her cards were pink." She walked over and planted a kiss on each of John's cheeks. "How are you doing?"

"Well, it's weird to not be in the military anymore. Or to have a job at all, for that matter. But I'm doing okay, for now. What about you? Do you know what this one's going to be yet?"

Carol smiled. "We do, but we're not telling."

"Fair enough."

"Speaking of the military, you're welcome to stay with us as long as you need, but do you have any plans yet?"

John felt his shoulders tense. Dave sounded just like their father. "I'm not hurting for money, so don't worry, I won't infringe on you guys for too long. I just wanted to see my family. No, I don't have plans yet, but I'll figure something out."

Dave winced. "I wasn't trying to put pressure on you, John. Here, why don't we head outside and get your things upstairs."

John nodded slowly, pulling his eyes away from the girls playing with Legos on the floor. He followed Dave back to the front yard.

"Why'd you resign, anyway? I got the impression that you were happy."

"I was, until recently. But it's a long story, and most of it's classified above what you're allowed." John offered him a wry smile. "Seriously."

Dave shook his head, then changed the subject as he leaned into the car to grab a bag. "What is this rust bucket?"

"It's a classic! That's one plan I do have. I'm going to restore this baby, and she's going to be beautiful!"

"And get what kind of gas mileage?"

"Look, just because-"

"I'm kidding," Dave cut him off, and lead the way back inside. "Kidding. There's an old carriage house out back." He grinned. "I've got some good tools out there, in addition to my own baby. I'll show her to you in the morning."

John narrowed his eyes as he followed his brother up the stairs, then laughed when his stomach rumbled. "I'm being sent a message, Dave."

"Yeah, sorry, we ate because Carol's going to be putting the girls down in about fifteen minutes, but she kept the stew hot in the crock pot, and I'm happy to sit and have a drink with you."

The two dropped John's few bags onto a cedar chest in the spare room, then made their way back down to the kitchen where the smells of vegetable beef stew made John's mouth water.

"Oh, home-cooked food. I'm in heaven."

Dave laughed. "Sick of the military mess?"

"Yes!"

~~~


"She's beautiful," John admitted, running his fingers over the chrome of the '53 Chevy Belair. "Not my style, precisely, but beautiful."

Dave laughed. "John, the fact that we have the same classic car love is shocking enough. If we went for the same car? I might fall over from the shock of it all."

John stood, glancing at his brother. They were still in their church clothes (well, actually, they were both in Dave's church clothes, because John hadn't really had anything suitable), but Dave had wanted to take him out and show him the car while Carol made the kids "try to go potty." They were all meeting her parents for lunch at the country club.

"Hey, boys."

John jumped nearly a foot at the familiar voice and spun to face the carriage house's old doors.

"Hey, Nancy," Dave greeted, looking between them uncomfortably.

And it was Nancy, looking way more casual than John had seen her at any of their recent meetings, in jeans and a cap-sleeved peasant top. With her hair curling lightly in the humidity, she looked young - a lot like when they'd first met.

"Hi, Nancy," he swallowed hard.

"Saw the Colorado plates and thought I'd stop in and say hello," she smiled. "So, hello."

"Hi," John said again, stupidly.

She glanced at their suits, then. "I'm sorry, were you folks headed off somewhere? I was just headed out of town for a drive in the country." She gestured back towards the front of the house where John could just see a newish Mustang parked in the drive.

"We were going to meet Carol's parents at the club for lunch, but John's certainly not under any obligation to come, if you want to catch up."

"Uh," John hesitated. "Shouldn't you be in Washington?"

Nancy hesitated too. "That's classified over Dave's clearance."

"Wow, and I thought my security clearance was pretty high," Dave chuckled. "Seems like everyone knows something about something I can't know."

Nancy smiled. "You're probably happier that way, Dave."

He shook his head. "Let me go check on Carol and the girls. You two can talk National Security, or whatever."

Nancy raised an eyebrow at John once Dave had left. "Fancy suit."

"It's Dave's. Mine's in storage; I only got here late last night." John pushed the hood of the old car shut and leaned his hip against it. "So, Washington?"

"Apparently, being your ex makes me persona non grata with the IOA." She shook her head. "I'm out."

John winced. "Sorry about that. If it makes you feel better, I'm completely out of the Air Force now, too."

"It wasn't your fault. I wasn't crazy about the way things were headed in Homeworld Security, anyway." She tilted her head towards the front of the house. "Nice Camaro, by the way."

John smiled. "It will be, once I'm through with it. Shouldn't you be in Phoenix, if not in DC?"

Nancy glanced town and toed at a loose pebble with her cowboy boot. "No. Graham filed for divorce. Well, I guess actually it was final a week and a half ago. Apparently, I kept too many secrets."

"Oh. I'm sorry."

Nancy just laughed. "I guess now I know how it feels, right?" Her forced laughter faded to a sad smile when she met his eyes.

"Timing's weird." John started to reach out, then let his hand drop. "I should probably go catch them if I'm going to go to lunch." He was reluctant to leave things there. "Are you around?"

"Yeah. I have a townhouse about three miles from here, in the old downtown area. They've been fixing the area up."

John nodded. "We'll have to get coffee, and catch up more seriously."

"That would be good." They stood there awkwardly for a moment. "Well, bye."

John watched Nancy turn and head back towards her car, before making his own way into the house.

~~~


"I understand that your most recent posting is classified, Mr. Sheppard, but surely you can offer me some sort of skills. You need to help me help you." The agent looked at his wit's end, and to be sure, John probably wasn't the easiest person to find a job for.

In fact, John supposed he really probably shouldn't tell the guy that his best skills were fighting life-sucking monsters and blowing things up. That might get him something, but it wouldn't be a job.

"I can fly."

The guy closed his eyes and let out a pained sigh. "We really don't do that kind of specialized placement. Can you type?"

John shrugged. Rodney'd called him a hunt and peck typist, but John thought he was better than that. "I guess. I don't know what my WPM is, though."

"Are you familiar with Microsoft Office?"

"Yeah. I can do data entry stuff. I've been told I make a good lab assistant, when I don't get bored. Which wouldn't happen, in a real job," John added the last part quickly when the guy's face grew even more pinched.

"Remind me what your degrees are in?"

"My BS is in Math. My MS is in Aeronautics."

The guy ran a pudgy hand through his thinning blonde hair, then pushed his "Birth Control Glasses" (big, round, thick, and dark) further up the bridge of his nose. "I can work with this, but, Mr. Sheppard?"

"What?"

"You know the economy's not good, right? And that the big airlines are laying employees off?"

John sighed. "Yeah. I know. I've been told. I picked a lousy time to get out of the military."

The guy shrugged. "Them's the facts. If I could give you some advice, it would be to get a teaching certificate. You could certainly teach middle school or high school math, with those degrees."

John stared. "Teach?"

"Yes, sir. It's hard to get hired without a certificate these days, although with your degree and military background, you might manage anyway. But math teachers are in high demand, so if nothing else, you could do that until you find something better."

John nodded, standing and shaking the guy's hand. "I'll think about it. You have my number, then?"

"I do. I'll give you a call if anything shows up."

John made his way into the bright afternoon sunlight. The shop next door was done up for Halloween, costumes on display in the windows, and John smiled a little. In some ways, Earth was like a new culture to explore, and in some ways, it felt good to be home. With Halloween only a week away, the Virginia breeze had grown brisk, but the afternoon sun still warmed his skin. He turned back towards the parking lot, nearly stumbling over the curb when he caught sight of the woman leaning against his car.

"Nancy!"

"Hi, John. Your car's pretty recognizable. I though I'd stop and say hi again, since you've been back a couple of weeks and we haven't connected up for coffee yet." She smiled and reached up to give him an only moderately uncomfortable hug.

"Yeah. I've been busy hunting for jobs. Not a whole lot of luck."

"Still staying with Dave?"

"Yeah."

"That must be fun." She smiled knowingly and squeezed his elbow. "Come on, there's a little pastry shop at the end of the row here. We can talk."

John nodded. "Okay. And it's actually not too bad. Maybe he and I don't hate each other as much as I thought."

They stepped inside the tiny bakery, ordering coffee at the counter. John ordered a lemon danish too, feeling weird that he didn't have to worry about Rodney stealing a bite and going into anaphylaxis. Even all these months later, that was weird. They chose a small table towards the back of the shop, though there were few people in it in the middle of a weekday.

"So," John said, taking a bite of his danish.

"So," Nancy agreed, watching him eat.

John smiled and ripped off about a third of the pastry, handing it to her. He'd been expecting it, and had intentionally pointed to one of the larger ones.

"Thanks," she grinned, immediately taking a bite. "I shouldn't."

"Who're you kidding? You're still gorgeous."

She laughed. "Sure, but I'm pushing 40. It gets harder and harder every day to stay this gorgeous."

"Don't complain. I quit pushing and went right on past."

"That's right, you're over the hill now, old man."

"Oh, ouch!" John groaned. "Don't say that! I'm youthful and virile and fun loving and all those good things!"

"Let me guess, you still play with toy cars in your spare time?"

John's smile faded a little, thinking again of Rodney. "Not in a while, no. Mostly just the big ones." He shrugged. "So what do you do these days, anyway?"

She blushed. "Well, the Pentagon is actually paying a good bit to make sure I don't do much. So I mostly do volunteer philanthropy work. I kind of feel like my mother."

Without thinking, John reached out and brushed a crumb from her cheek, then pulled his hand back with an awkward laugh. "Sorry. Old habits die hard, I guess. And yes, I know what you mean. I've been given a list of jobs I'm specifically not allowed to do. And I had to actively restrain myself from telling the guy at the employment agency that one of my skills is fighting space aliens."

"He's probably heard it before," she giggled.

John laughed too. "I didn't think of that. He told me I should get certified to teach math in middle or high school."

Nancy nodded. "You should. Also, there's a place about twenty miles outside of town; you ought to check with them. You could probably give flying lessons or plane rides on the weekends."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. Sort of a contract thing. Dave's got your dad's old Cessna there, I think."

John frowned. "I'll ask him about it. You think I should teach?"

She stole another piece of his pastry, brushing crumbs off of her pink tee. "Yeah. You're decent with kids. I always thought you'd make a good dad."

John pulled the plate towards himself protectively. "That's a joke. And anyway, not all good dads make good teachers."

"It's not a joke," she shook her head emphatically. "It's one of the reasons I married you. And then, your unwillingness to go there was one of the reasons I left you. But anyway, I do think you'd make a good teacher."

John took a hurried bite of danish so he wouldn't have to respond right away. He stared at the table, chewing slowly, figuring out what to say. "Yeah. I was just too young."

"You were in your thirties."

"I don't mean my real age. I mean in here," John tapped his head.

"No argument there." Nancy folded her napkin in half, and then in half again, rubbing her thumbnail over the edge. "You were right. It never was good timing for us, was it?"

John reached out and squeezed her hand gently, running his thumb over her knuckles. "No," he said sadly, thinking about what Caldwell had said about family, but also about what the colonel had said about two lonely people making a bad pairing.

She looked at their hands, and then up at his face. "Would you even be interested?"

He swallowed. His body, brain, and heart were sending all kinds of mixed signals. "I don't know, Nancy."

"I still love you, you know. That never stopped, even when I was pissed that you were keeping secrets and gone all the time and..."

"I know." John laughed. "I think you're still the last serious relationship I had."

She shook her head. "Graham and I have been separated for over a year. You wouldn't even be the rebound, if you're worried about that."

"Nancy-"

"What about friends?" She gave him an embarrassed smile. "I don't mean to sound desperate. And I would be happy just being friends. I just miss having you in my life, even just to talk to."

He squeezed her hand again before dropping it. "I like the idea of being friends. But I have to go. I promised Dave I'd pick the girls up from school today."

"Okay. Dave has my number. Call." Nancy smiled. "And see? Good with kids!"

~~~


John sat with Dave in the waiting room for the Maternity Ward. Carol'd been scheduled for a c-section a couple of days after Halloween, but the baby had decided to make an early, and distressed, appearance. As soon as Dave had called, John had gotten the girls ready to stay with Carol's parents, and hurried to the hospital to sit with Dave.

"What do you know?"

Dave gulped from the coffee he probably didn't really need. "Their heart rates are both way too high. So is Carol's blood pressure. They took her back to the OR right before I called you, but they said the birth may already be too far along to do a c-section."

John squeezed Dave's shoulder. "It's a good hospital. The best. I'm sure they'll be okay."

"Yeah. I know." Dave nodded, bouncing his leg. "It's just, you don't really know, you know?"

John moved his arm so it was completely around Dave's back. "I know. No more coffee for you, okay? I don't want you to make yourself sick."

Dave stared at the cup, as if he hadn't realized he had it. "Yeah. It was just something to do."

"I know." John pulled a Power bar out of his pocket, not stopping to think about why he always kept one there when he actually hated the things. "Eat this. Even if you don't want to. It'll help."

Dave took the bar and unwrapped it with shaking fingers, nibbling slowly on the corner. "Thanks."

John just rubbed his back, watching the door to the OR worriedly. "That's what brothers are for. We watch out for each other."

"Yeah." Dave smiled weakly. "We do."

John wasn't sure how long they sat there before the doctor came out - he was intentionally not looking at the time.

"Mr. Sheppard." The doctor stopped in front of them, clearly exhausted.

Dave jumped up, and John rose as calmly as possible beside them. He knew that expression, and it wasn't good news.

"First, your little boy is fine. We've moved him to the nursery, and we'll probably want to keep him one extra night, but I don't foresee any complications for him."

Dave's fingers clenched around John's wrist. "That's... That's great news. And my wife?"

"She lost a significant amount of blood, and we're having trouble keeping her vitals stable. She's being transferred to the ICU as we speak. They've already started a transfusion, and they'll monitor her vitals at least overnight. If you'll come with me, I'll take you to her room."

Dave swallowed, gripping John's arm even tighter. "What exactly are you telling me?"

The doctor shook his head. "Honestly, I don't know yet. She lost consciousness, and hasn't regained it yet. With your permission, I imagine they'll schedule an MRI of her brain for later tonight."

Dave stared at the doctor, unblinking.

"Of course you have his permission," John said quickly. "Can you take us to see her now?"

"Just him, for tonight."

"I won't go in," John said quickly. "I'll stay right outside the ICU."

Which was true - until the doctor left, and then John immediately slipped inside, smiling at the nurse on duty as if he were supposed to be there. Fortunately, he spotted Dave immediately, and headed for Carol's "cubicle."

"You're not supposed to be in here," Dave whispered, raising his eyebrows.

"I won't stay long. But years of seeing the people I care about get sick or hurt has taught me a thing or two about when to break the doctor's orders. Are you staying overnight?"

Dave nodded. "Yes. Can you pick the girls up from Carol's parents? I know they'll want to come out as soon as it's visiting hours."

John nodded. "Don't worry. I've got it under control." He glanced at Carol. "How is she?"

"I don't know." Dave sighed. "Holding her own, I guess. John? Thanks."

John looked at the fear and exhaustion in his brother's eyes for a moment, then bent down and hugged him tight. "Anything for family, Dave."

He arrived at the Lewis' house around 7:15, just in time to pick the girls up for school. They seemed blissfully oblivious, aware for now only that their baby brother had been born. It was clear Mrs. Lewis had been crying though.

John ushered the girls towards his car, telling them he'd buckle them into the car-seats in two seconds, then turned back towards Mrs. Lewis. "Visiting hours are from 8:30 to 8:30. She's wasn't awake yet, but she's doing okay."

Mrs. Lewis let out a choked sob and quickly turned back into the house. Mr. Lewis thanked John and shook his hand, then hurried after his wife.

John made his way back to the Camaro and buckled the girls in. "Alrighty then, where are we off to? High school and college? Work?"

"No, silly goose," Sadie shouted. "I'm only three!"

"He knows that, stupid." Ginny sounded sulky, and John could see in the rearview mirror that her eyes were red-rimmed. "He knows you're in pre-school and I'm in first grade!"

"Ginny," John said warningly. "Don't talk to your sister like that."

"Yeah, Ginny," Sadie echoed. "Don't talk to me like that."

"Why do you have to copy Uncle John?"

"'Cuz he's cool!"

"You don't know what cool means!"

"Well, you don't know what cool means!"

"Girls!" John's shout silenced them. He didn't think he'd ever shouted at them before. "I'll give you both a treat this afternoon if you can stay silent for this car ride. Okay?" He was exhausted after visiting the employment agencies the day before, and then staying up all night at the hospital with Dave.

They nodded, but after he'd dropped Sadie at the pre-school and turned the Camaro towards the elementary school, he heard a soft, "Uncle John?" from the back seat.

"What is it, Ginny?"

"Will I still get my treat if I ask you a question?"

John laughed. "Go ahead."

"Is something wrong with Mommy?"

John swallowed, his grip tightening on the wheel. "Why would you think that?" He glanced at her in the mirror, catching her wiping her eyes.

"I heard Nana and Papa talking, and they sounded real scared."

"You're a smart girl, Ginny, so I'm not going to lie to you. Your mommy had a real hard time having your baby brother."

"Did she die?"

"No, neither one of them did. But she's still really sick, so you need to pray for her, okay?"

"Okay."

The last five minutes of the drive were quiet, until they pulled into the drop-off loop.

"Uncle John?"

"What?"

"I don't feel good. Can I stay home with you today?"

John twisted to study her closely. It was probably nerves, but she actually did look a little green around the gills.

"Will you be less scared for your mommy if you stay with me?"

She nodded, staring at her hands.

"Okay. I'll take you home and call the school. If you're feeling up to it later, I'll let you help me clean Rosy here."

"You'll let me touch the car?" She asked, excitedly.

"Sure, if you're careful." John turned back onto the highway that would take them out of town.

"Daddy doesn't let me touch his car!" She giggled, hopefully on her way to at least partially forgetting her fears.

~~~


John answered the door, trying to rub the sleep from his eyes. He'd gotten the girls down for a nap about fifteen minutes earlier, and had promptly passed out on the rec room couch. The doorbell had only barely managed to roust him.

John blinked through the glare of the late afternoon sunlight, slowly deducing that he was looking at Nancy. "Hi."

"Hey," she answered softly. "I rang twice."

He grunted. "I fell asleep. I finally got the girls to settle down and nap."

She nodded and held out the covered dish she was carrying. "I brought food. Mac n' cheese on one side, chicken and veggie casserole on the other."

"Yum." John took the dish and motioned for her to follow him to the kitchen. "Do I need to keep it warm?"

"No. Stick it in the fridge and heat it up later. Has Dave been home?"

"He showered and changed clothes while Mr. and Mrs. Lewis were at the hospital, but he only stayed about a half hour. How'd you hear?"

"Mom is best friends with Mrs. Lewis. She called me." She rested her hand on John's arm. "How're you?"

"Tired. Worried." John shrugged. "Mostly just trying to keep the girls upbeat. At least tomorrow's Saturday."

She squeezed gently. "What have you heard?"

John found himself leaning into her touch gratefully. It grounded him. "Probably the same as you, at this point. The MRI didn't show anything, so she should pull through, since she has so far. The big question is getting her bp stabilized."

Nancy reached up and tugged on his head until he'd rested his forehead on her shoulder, then hugged him tight. "This stuff sucks."

"Yeah, it really does." He wrapped his own arms around her back and just stood there, taking comfort in her warmth and solidity.

"You never really were one for talking about feelings," she chuckled, kissing his temple and massaging the nape of his neck.

"Never needed to with you." He turned his face into her neck, breathing in her scent.

"Or maybe you did," she said softly.

He closed his eyes and tightened his grip. "Maybe."

"John? John? You with me?"

It seemed like he'd instantaneously gone from hugging Nancy to being propped up against the counter with her shaking him.

"Hrrm? What?" He blinked in confusion.

"I think you just fell asleep on me."

John felt the tips of his ears go pink. "Uh. I'm sorry. Did I mention I'm tired?"

"Yes." Nancy sighed and shook her head. "But I'd call this complete exhaustion. Go sleep. I'll stay tonight and help take care of the girls."

John smiled wanly. "Thank you," he murmured, touching her cheek with the back of his fingers. "You're an angel."

~~~


"Aren't you kind of old to become a cop?" Nancy's voice carried a fair amount of skepticism.

"Probably, but since when do I ever do anything normally?"

They were sitting propped back to back on the small patio in Nancy's back garden, several blankets wrapped around them and a fire going in the fire pit. Cool weather was finally settling in. And with the cool weather, both Carol and Brandon Sheppard had finally been allowed to go home from the hospital, healthy and happy. Though he'd been there to take care of the girls until Dave got back with his wife and son, and he knew he would have been gladly welcomed, John had wanted to get out of Dodge and let the family alone for their first day back together. So he'd shown up at Nancy's front door with a bucket of fried chicken and a six-pack of Bud, to thank her for her help during Carol's recovery.

"Never," she laughed, pouring them both more wine from the bottle she'd opted to pull from her fridge. The Bud was residing somewhere in the kitchen, forgotten.

"I wouldn't be low man on the totem pole, with my military experience. And it'd mean I'd get to go back to saving the world, one bad guy at a time."

"What about flying?" Her head fell further back against John's shoulder, and he figured she must be looking up at the sky.

"I've been talking to the people you told me about. There are still some possibilities. And some cops use helicopters too, you know."

"Hmmm." Nancy shimmied around and settled onto her back, the blankets pulled under her to protect from the cold concrete. She tugged him down next to her. "Remember when we were in grad school, and we used to look up at the stars like this?"

"Yeah," John laughed, gazing at her. "When your nose wasn't buried in your legal books."

She smiled, turning her face to his, their foreheads almost touching. "You would point out constellations and talk about flying, and maybe even joining NASA."

He nodded. "Screw NASA. I got to see way more than that."

She giggled, resting her hand against his side for him to grab. "We've both done more than we ever thought."

"We've both grown up a lot, too." He pressed his leg against hers.

"Do you wish we'd known then what we do now?"

"No." John shook his head emphatically.

"No?"

"Some of the mistakes I've made ended up being the best things that ever happened to me."

"Marrying me?"

"No." John kissed her nose lightly. "But letting you divorce me was a mistake."

"And it was one of the best things that ever happened to you?"

"Yeah. But don't take that the wrong way." John placed another kiss on her lips, squeezing her hand. "I got Atlantis out of the deal, and I learned to value my family a whole lot more."

Nancy replied with a kiss of her own. "I wish I'd gotten to see her once."

John wrapped his arms tightly around his ex-wife, pulling her close. "Me too." He kissed each of her eyelids, then her lips again.

"Marrying Graham was my mistake," she murmured softly against his lips.

"Oh?"

"Mmm. But it put me in your shoes. Walk a mile, if you will."

John shifted so that their bodies were pressed together, nibbling teasingly at her jaw. "I do love you, Nancy."

"Aw, shucks, you just want in my pants."

He pulled back, meeting her gaze with his own. "No. And, as you said a few weeks ago, I would be satisfied just being your friend. But I love you. You're a part of my family. And someone I really respect showed me that losing family for the wrong reasons is absolutely the stupidest thing you can do."

Nancy reached her hand up, touched his face with her fingertips. "Why, John Sheppard. I do believe you have grown up."

John gave her an awkward grin, then bent his head down next to her ear. "But I also want into your pants," he whispered.
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