A/N: Sincere thanks to theicemenace for her help, patience, beta skills, and putting up with a newbie who's still trying to figure out what she's doing! Credit also to Jae'a for making sure Radek sounded right, and to my dear friend Deanna for moral support, playing editor, brainstorming, nagging me until I had a fully fleshed OC complete with background and quirks, and for the occasional smack upside the head. Any mistakes still there are solely the author's.
Underlined & italicized words indicate that the characters are speaking in Czech. The few remaining Czech words will have a translation at the end of the relevent chapters.
Disclaimer: I own nothing affiliated with the Stargate franchise, aside from some action figures, patches and photos. If I did own them, Stargate Atlantis would still be entertaining us with new adventures every week! I do, however, own all rights to Dr. Bethany Noble, Sergeant Bryan Reynolds, and any other OCs that may crop up in the future.
Thanks for reading~ Lady Pandora
Chapter 1: Sheppard
three days prior to dialout
John Sheppard sat on the riverbank flipping a coin as he watched the water flow by. His world had been turned upside down when he innocently sat in a funky-looking chair at a secret base in Antarctica, and he still wasn't sure how he felt about everything he'd learned since then.
Who knew his family would have some odd genetic quirk that allowed him to use Ancient technology? He knew his dad liked to think their family was superior to everyone else, and would have loved to know that their genes proved that to be true. John's refusal to follow the path laid out for him had caused irreparable damage to his relationship with his father and brother, which would have killed his mom if she'd still been alive. Then again, if she'd still been alive she would have encouraged him to follow his heart. She had believed in him and supported his choices, encouraging him to dream big and take chances.
He reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet, flipping it open to a well-worn photo of his mom and himself, taken only a few months before she passed away. They looked so much alike: the same eyes, same wild black hair, even the same smirk as they looked at the camera. She had encouraged his love of flying, even going so far as to get him glider lessons for his tenth birthday. His dad, predictably, had been furious over it, but by the time he'd found out it was too late.
When his mom passed away it was as if all the joy in their house had been buried with her. His dad had little tolerance for what he called John's flighty nature and tried his best to push John into the mold he felt his son should fit. The fact that John took after his mom in temperament as well as looks caused so much friction that the two of them hadn't spoken in years. As far as his dad was concerned John ceased to be his son when he chose to join the Air Force instead of taking his place in the family business. They had reconciled briefly while John was married to Nancy, but once the divorce was finalized the older Sheppard son became persona non grata once again.
A smaller picture of Dave and himself, both soaking wet from a dip in the pool, had been hidden behind the first photo. John couldn't bring himself to take it out of the wallet, in spite of what had happened between them since. That picture was a reminder of a time prior to his mom's death when the two brothers had been inseparable; where you found the one, you would always find the other. After his mom died they no longer had the freedom to pursue their own interests, and unlike John, Dave had chosen to follow the path laid out before him without complaint. John's choices had created a rift between them that had widened into a chasm when he chose to join the Air Force.
In the third photo his ex-wife looked up at him with a smile on her face as she held a small box with a heart-shaped pendant nestled inside. The bittersweet memory of that day played out in his mind once again.
"John? Where are you?" He could hear her voice through the open window in their bedroom, but he was too busy trying to wrap her anniversary present to immediately respond.
"John?" He heard the sliding door open and shut as she entered the house. Crap, he thought. I just need another minute to finish this. "I'm upstairs, honey. I'll be down in a moment."
"Hurry up! I'm hungry! Want me to start grilling the steaks?" she asked from where she stood at the foot of the stairs.
"Yeah, that would be great. Be right there," John answered. He tucked the little package into a pocket, quickly hiding any incriminating evidence under his gym bag, and grabbed his camera from the shelf. He took the stairs two at a time, catching Nancy as she struggled to open the sliding glass door. He grabbed the plate of steaks and slid the door open. She carried the salad and a bottle of wine to the table, hips swaying provocatively as she walked. John followed behind, admiring the view, until she turned and pointed at the grill.
"Food, John. Now!" she ordered, laughter in her voice.
"Yes, ma'am." He said as he snapped off a salute. Nancy just rolled her eyes.
They enjoyed a leisurely meal as they caught up on each other's day. After the meal John set the box on the table between them. Nancy looked at it in surprise. "What is this?"
"Guess you'll have to open it and see," John replied.
Nancy opened the box to reveal a heart-shaped pendant with a piece of dark amber embedded in the center, surrounded by tiny sapphires and emeralds. "John! It's gorgeous!" she exclaimed, lifting it out of the box. She looked up at him just as he took a picture, wanting to capture this moment.
"I had this made just for you. There isn't a gem that matches hazel eyes, but I thought a mix of amber, sapphire and emerald came close." John fastened it around her neck, hands gliding over her shoulders as he pulled her close. "Happy anniversary, sweetheart."
John sighed, remembering the fights that had followed over the next couple of years as Nancy struggled to deal with the secrecy surrounding his job, and finalization of their divorce right before his posting to Antarctica. A part of him wished that he could turn back time and choose a different door, but the realistic part of his brain knew that he would still have chosen the Air Force over the family business and Nancy. He hoped that Nancy would find the happiness she deserved now that she was free of him.
The last picture was one of his buddies Mitch and Dex standing in front of the Blackhawk that had been shot down a week later. He pushed back the memory of that day, the explosion so severe that they were unable to recover any bodies to ship back. John recalled the hours he spent searching for their dog tags, and how this one event had been the point at which he'd determined to never leave a man behind, no matter what the cost to himself. The choices he's made since then had resulted in his posting to Antarctica and the decision he now found himself faced with.
He stuck the wallet back in his pocket and flipped the coin one last time. Heads. Okay, off to the unknown it is. John stood up, dusted himself off, and walked back to his car, mind already sorting through what he'd need to do before they shipped out in three days.