John Sheppard leaned against the balcony railing watching the storm blow in. The sky and ocean mirrored his soul – raw, roiling and angry, tossed in all directions. The emotional rollercoaster that was his life these days left him constantly fighting for control. He had learned early in life that getting close to people wasn't a good thing. Every time his dad had been reassigned John had to leave behind everyone he cared about and start over. It was easier to keep things surface, to smile and joke, but to never get too attached to anything or anyone. He had forgotten that lesson when he arrived in Atlantis. He had let his guard down, had begun to care about the people here. They had become his family, and each loss had torn away a piece of his soul. The losses had come in different forms, but the results were the same. He gripped the railing and hung his head, trying to rein in the emotions.
Damn. He swallowed thickly and nodded. "I'll be right there, Teyla."
Senior staff meeting was a necessary evil. Sheppard had never cared for them, or for meetings in general, but the day-to-day operation of Atlantis required them, and as head of the military, he had to attend. He shook off the memories and headed inside to the conference room. John took his seat and as he looked at the faces around the table, he felt his world turn sideways again for a moment: Carter and Keller where Weir and Beckett had been; Teyla, her pregnancy growing more pronounced each day; Ronon sporting a massive black-eye undoubtedly from a recent trip to visit his fellow Satedans on their new world. Sheppard had never seen people that liked to spar and fight like Ronon's people. At least McKay was his normal self, well, as normal as Rodney could be anyway.
John sighed as the Chief Scientist began his report on the newest lab they had discovered. Carter's eyes lit up at whatever McKay had said the lab was for, and they had just launched into a techno-babble fest when the alarm sounded.
"Unscheduled activation!" As one they rose from the conference room table and headed to the control room. Sheppard tried to remember how many teams were off-world at the moment. He could only come up with 3, and none were due back for hours. The room was tense as they waited for an IDC. Chuck received the codes and looked at Col. Carter.
"It's Sgt. Stackhouse, ma'am."
"Open the iri- I mean lower the shield please."
"Yes, ma'am." Chuck pressed the shield deactivator and keyed the comms. "Jumper 3, this is Atlantis. The shield is down; you are clear to come through."
John knew something was wrong as soon as he heard Stackhouse's voice. The sergeant was rock solid, but today his voice was thick and quaked a bit as he spoke. "Roger that Atlantis. And, um, please have Dr. Biro meet us in the jumper bay."
Silence descended in the control room at the pathologist's name. There was only one reason to request Dr. Biro. John sprinted for the jumper bay, taking the steps 3 at a time, his mind racing on who had been on that mission. Lorne had been in charge of taking Zelenka and Miko What's-her-name to M2A-615 for some kind of scientific blah, blah, blah. Rodney had explained it, but Sheppard hadn't been paying much attention. What had gone wrong this time? The planet was supposed to be uninhabited so he had assigned Lorne and Stackhouse scientist babysitting duties as a precaution only. He should have known better. Why were things always so difficult in the Pegasus Galaxy?
Sheppard reached the jumper bay as the ship settled in its berth. He braced himself as the hatch opened. The first sight that greeted his eyes was Major Evan Lorne sitting on one of the rear compartment benches, head in his hands and covered in blood. Radek Zelenka sat next to him, mumbling in Czech. As the hatch continued to lower, Stackhouse and Miko could be seen alive and well in the front of the jumper. What the hell? Sheppard felt Biro push past him and realized that the senior staff and a med team had arrived. Then he noticed the body on the floor of the small ship, covered with a blanket.
"Major, would you care to explain what's going on?"
Lorne finally lifted his head and turned haunted eyes toward John.
"I'm sorry, Sir. We hadn't gone more than 100 yards into the woods before we were attacked by Wraith. I ordered everyone back to the jumper. I was covering our six and firing. I never saw him, Sir. He must have been hiding in the forest somewhere. I didn't even know he was there until the body rolled out…." Lorne's head dropped back into his hands as Biro pulled off the blanket. Oh, God, no, please no. John felt as if he'd been knifed in the gut.
Ford. His poor, tortured face looked almost peaceful in death, but his chest spoke to the reality of the situation. Even hyped up on enzyme, he couldn't have lived with those wounds. 'Hurt's like hell, Sir.' Sheppard had never forgotten the joy on the young Lieutenant's face as he had thrown himself backward through the stargate. John felt that knife of pain twist inside and the iron control slipping. As he heard Biro pronounce time of death, he clenched his fists and whirled to face Lorne.
"What the hell were you thinking?!"
The bleakness on the major's countenance was his only answer.
"Um, Sir?" Stackhouse cleared his throat. "It wasn't the major's fault. No one had any idea that Ford was on the planet, much less in the vicinity of the jumper. There were Wraith everywhere, and all of our people were already onboard. We couldn't distinguish Wraith or human life signs from the large animals. I'm sorry, Sir. Aiden… was my friend too."
John was seething but knew his anger was misplaced. This was his fault, not Lorne's. Sheppard struggled to put the darkness back in its place. He rarely let it show, but when he did…. Well there were fewer Genii and Wraith in the galaxy as a result. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
"Sorry, Major. I know this wasn't your fault. Get to the infirmary for your post-mission check and then get cleaned up."
"Sir, I'm really sorry. If I had just-"
"Evan, don't. This isn't on you. Now, get your people checked out."
"Yes, sir." Lorne gathered his gear and his people and followed Keller out the doors.
Sheppard turned back to Ford and found Teyla kneeling with her hand on Aiden's face whispering something John couldn't hear. McKay climbed in and sat on the bench where Lorne had been. Ronon and Carter had backed away to give the former teammates some space.
"I said some really awful things to him."
"What are you talking about, McKay?"
"The last time we saw Ford, when he gave us the enzyme. I said some awful things to him. Even the time before, on the planet where we found Ronon. Maybe if I had been nicer…."
"It would not have mattered what you said to him, Dr. McKay. The enzyme caused him to not think clearly. He was barely the Aiden we knew."
"I know, Teyla. Still, I wish-"
"Let it go, McKay."
"Just let it go, Rodney!" Sheppard tried to steady his breathing. "This isn't your fault either, McKay. It's mine. Ford was under my command; he was my responsibility."
"John, surely you do not blame yourself for Aiden's actions. There is nothing more you could have done for him. He had many opportunities to return with us, but he chose to go his own way."
"We don't leave our people behind, Teyla. I left him on that hive ship. I should have made him come with me."
"You did not leave him behind. You came for me and Ronon. Aiden was supposed to follow. You could not have forced him against his will."
"Excuse me, Col. Sheppard." John turned to find an orderly standing behind him with a gurney. He stumbled blindly out of the back of the jumper and straight into Samantha Carter.
"Colonel Sheppard, I'm very sorry about Lt. Ford. I know how it feels to lose a teammate. I'm going to have you and your team stand down for the next couple of days."
"Col. Carter, that's really not necessary. Ford's been gone a long time."
"I think it is, John. Give yourselves some time. We don't have anything pressing at the moment. Your next mission was to deliver some medical supplies to the Genii. I think Reardon's team can handle it."
"Fine." The sight of Biro and her team lifting Ford's body onto the gurney was the last straw. John stalked out of the jumper bay and headed for his quarters.
Sheppard moved as quickly as he could without looking like he was running for his life. As the doors to his room closed behind him, he thought the lock on and leaned back against the wall once again fighting for control. He squeezed his eyes shut and felt his fingernails biting into his palms. He refused to fall apart now. Hell, that hive ship had blown up 2 years ago. As far as he had known, Ford had been dead since then, although John had always suspected the resourceful lieutenant had found a way off. Why now? Why was it hitting so hard now? The images playing behind his eyelids showed him the answer even as he tried to deny it. This had been building since the day Cars-. Nope. Can't go there yet.
John pushed away from the wall and began to pace in his small quarters. His thoughts kept coming back to the item in his desk drawer. The temptation was so strong that he actually opened the drawer a couple of times only to slam it shut again. Must be some other way to handle this. The only way he really knew was to run until he couldn't run anymore. But it was the middle of the day, and the city was filled with people in his normal areas. Still, he could go to a remote part of the city…. He changed clothes quickly and put on his running shoes. Grabbing a bottle of water and his radio, he headed to the transporter.
He was deposited in an outer area of Atlantis and began his normal warm-up and stretches, trying to give them his full attention. He started his run, concentrating on his form and the rhythm of his steps. He alternated sprinting and jogging. He tried counting doorways he passed and then windows. He counted backward from one hundred in every language he knew. He tried remembering the name of every girl he'd ever kissed. He recited the control panel location of every button and toggle on his Blackhawk. Nothing worked. Finally he ran full out until he thought his lungs would burst. On the verge of collapse he finally stopped running. He couldn't outrun the memories. He leaned over with hands on his knees breathing in huge gulps of air. Once his oxygen-starved body had recovered a bit, he began a slow walk back to the transporter. He knew exactly how this was going to turn out and hated himself for it already. But something had to give.
When Sheppard reached his quarters, he kicked off his shoes and stared at the desk drawer. Boy, was he going to regret this. He took a step toward it then veered instead to the bathroom. He turned on the shower full blast and stripped off his sweaty clothes. John braced his hands on the wall and ducked his head under the hot water taking slow, deep breaths as he tried to calm the churning inside. After toweling off and putting on clean sweatpants and a t-shirt, he paused to stare at the man in the mirror. Maybe his father had been right. Maybe he was just a screw-up. Maybe-.
At the sound of the door chime, Sheppard's head slumped to his chest. Not now.
"Sheppard, you in there?"
McKay. That's all he needed right now. Perhaps if he didn't answer McKay would just leave. Oh, yeah, right. Either Rodney had already established that John was in his quarters or he would soon. Might as well get it over with.
Sheppard walked to the door and palmed it open. "What?"
"Where have you been? I've been looking for you for hours. I thought that was probably your life sign I detected in the lower levels of the North wing, but I sure as hell wasn't going all the way down there looking for you. Why didn't you answer your radio?"
"McKay! What do you want?"
"Oh, well, Teyla thought you might like to join us for dinner. She's worried, you see, and she thought-"
"Um, OK. If you're sure…."
McKay had been shifting nervously since he walked in but stopped and peered closely at Sheppard. "Hey, are you OK? The way you bolted out of the jumper bay earlier-"
"I'm fine, Rodney," John snapped. He took a deep breath before continuing. "I just don't feel like dinner tonight." He turned his back and headed toward the book on his nightstand, hoping McKay would take the hint, but that man could be so obtuse sometimes.
"Don't feel like dinner? You didn't even eat lunch. You know, beating yourself up won't bring Ford back."
At his words, Sheppard whipped around, eyes glittering dangerously. "Out! Now!"
McKay backpeddled and threw his hands up. "OK, OK, no need to get hostile. I'm going."
When the doors closed behind the scientist, John began pacing again. The rage was boiling inside, begging for release. He roared in frustration and hit the wall as hard as he could. He felt the skin on his knuckles rip open, and arrows of fire shot up his arm. He wasn't certain how many times he actually hit the wall, but the only reason he stopped was that he couldn't stand up any more. He glanced at his busted right hand, thinking how pissed Carter and Keller were going to be when they saw what he'd done. He'd definitely be grounded for a while since he wouldn't be able to fly or shoot. It hadn't been one of his brighter ideas, but the pain in his hand had drowned out the screaming in his soul for a few minutes. But, as the ache dimmed, the rage came roaring back.
Sheppard pushed himself up on unsteady legs and headed to his desk. He jerked the bottle of whiskey out and sat down heavily on the bed. He thought back to the day Jack O'Neill gave it to him, the day he'd been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard. The general had grinned at him, told him congratulations and don't drink it all at once. The bottle had sat in John's quarters for 2 years now, and he'd never touched it. Oh, he'd been tempted to on several occasions: after unmutating from a bug; when he had escaped from Kolya (rat bastard); and most recently after Cars-. Nope, still not ready yet. Each time, Sheppard had left the bottle where it was and moved on. He knew this was a bad idea. Drinking made him angry, mean even. It would make him lose the rest of his control, little that there was. But he needed one night just to forget – to drown the nightmares and memories, to be numb, oblivious. Just one night. Was that too much to ask?
He also knew that he needed to not be around people. The idea of baring his soul went against the very fiber of his being. And he knew McKay. He'd be back. And he could break the lock code. Sheppard stuffed his feet in his boots and shrugged into his jacket, taking care not to jar his broken hand too much. He opened his laptop and called up schematics to the external sensors. After a couple of adjustments, he put his radio in his pocket, grabbed the bottle and headed for the transporter again.
He wandered out on the East Pier and sank down with his back against Atlantis. The storm had dissipated, and a cool wind was blowing. He leaned forward with his forearms on his knees, the bottle clutched in his left hand as he dipped his head between his elbows. He stared at the bottle and, with a shake of his head and a sigh, leaned back against his city and took a long drink, the decision made. The liquid burned the back of his throat going down. He hadn't had anything like this in a while. He had the occasional beer and even champagne a couple of times, but he limited himself to one. He had responsibilities, and the military commander of Atlantis couldn't call in sick with a hangover when Wraith were attacking. And he was a lousy drunk. Just like his dad. He sighed again and took another drink.
This time he let his mind wander over all the crap the past 3 ½ years had brought. He toasted each one: Wraith. Sumner. Hoffans. Retrovirus. Genii. Travelers. Kolya. Michael. Ford. Elizabeth. Carson. God, he was tired, tired of death, destruction, losing friends.
Sometimes the sound of the explosion woke him up at night. He remembered telling Teyla that it hadn't hit yet and how much he was not looking forward to it when it did. He had been running from Carson's death for months now. There had been a few times, a very few, when he had allowed himself to think about what had happened. But, invariably, some major emergency had interrupted. So he pushed it back down and handled whatever was thrown at him. However, the little corner he kept it hidden in had already been full and had started to push back.
As he took another drink, he realized the pain in his hand had diminished to occasional throbbing, and the buzz in his head was going strong. Mind-numbing oblivion was rapidly approaching he hoped. John leaned his head back against the wall and felt hot tears threatening to spill. Shit. Not drunk enough yet.
With the sound of Carson dying still echoing in his head, the image of the memorial service popped into his mind, and with it, Elizabeth. She had said such eloquent words that day for their friend. John had considered Beckett and Weir unofficial members of his team, his family. He was still reeling over Carson's death when Elizabeth left.
After the first strike on the Asurans and the resulting injuries, she decided she needed a sabbatical, time to recover and reevaluate. She packed her things, dialed up Earth and walked away. She just walked away as if the hell they had all been through over their 3 years together didn't matter. Sheppard knew she felt like a second-class citizen, that the IOA had let her be in charge and make the tough decisions until the military wanted to step in and all over her. But she hadn't even looked back when she went through the gate, leaving him in charge until the SGC could find a replacement. He had never before understood or appreciated all it took to run Atlantis. So he dove into the work and ignored the betrayal and loss.
And then they found the Satedans. Ronon had been overjoyed, literally. John had seen him smile on occasion, but not like this. Dex was practically transformed. Sheppard had been happy for him too. He didn't begrudge the man – they were his people, his culture, his past. Minos, the leader of the Satedan settlement, had been welcoming to the Lanteans, and they settled into a quite useful trade agreement.
Sheppard closed his eyes and took another drink as he remembered the day Ronon had decided to leave. John knew that his team wouldn't stay together forever, that they would go their separate ways one day. But not this day. Not this soon; he wasn't ready to lose another friend. He had agreed however; he couldn't force Ronon to stay even if he wanted to. The Satedan was free to do what he wanted. So John watched as another member of his family packed his things and walked away. At least this family member had come back, but the damage had been done. The soldier kinship he had shared with Ronon was still there, but it was strained. Dex hadn't really betrayed him; he'd merely gone home with his people. The logical part of John's brain knew that, but the rest of him felt the sting of rejection no matter how irrational it was.
But that paled in comparison to how he'd felt when Teyla finally confessed to being 4 months pregnant. Four months! After dealing with the visions of that crazy Seer and having Kolya's Wraith turn up, Teyla owns up to the fact that she's been hiding a pregnancy from him. He had known something was wrong from their sparring sessions: she tired easily and protected her abdomen more than usual. But never in a million years would he have guessed that she was carrying a baby. And she still wouldn't tell him who the father was. He had trusted Teyla, trusted her more than he had trusted almost anyone. The memory of a conversation on the Daedalus floated back to him.
'You, Elizabeth, Ronon, Carson, even Rodney, are the closest thing I have to a ...'
'I'd do anything ... for any one of you. If I had to give up my life the way Ronon was going to, I would.'
It had been difficult for him to say those words, but he needed her to understand how important they were to him. He didn't expect her to tell him all her secrets. He certainly hadn't told her all of his. But something like a baby wasn't something you could hide for long. Did she think he wouldn't understand? Why hadn't she trusted him?
Sheppard groaned and took another drink. He was tired of memories, tired of people, tired. The numbness wasn't coming fast enough. He could still feel the darkness raging inside. He took another drink just as he heard the doors to the pier slide open. Damn.
"You out here, Sheppard?"
Oh, hell no. He was not up to dealing with McKay. John thought he'd disabled the sensors from detecting him here, but he should have known. Maybe if he was very still and quiet, McKay would-.
"There you are. Someone messed with the city sensors. Been trying to fix them for quite some time. Why are you sitting out here in the cold by yourself? It's freezing out here, and you just have that thin jacket on. You're going to get pneumonia, you know. And what did you do to your hand? Keller's really going to be mad when she sees that, not to mention Sam, I mean Col. Carter. Anyway, I-"
"Shut the hell up and get away from me, McKay!"
Rodney blinked at him in surprise. "Are you drunk?"
"Yes, Rodney. I'm drunk. I'm very drunk, and I'm going to get drunker. And I'm going to do it alone so get lost."
Instead of leaving, McKay leaned in to take a closer look. "Is this about Ford?"
"McKay! I swear if you don't get away from me I will not be responsible for my actions!"
"Look Sheppard, Teyla was right - the kid was messed up. He was a drug addict, remember? He had plenty of opportunities to come back with us and chose not to. Now, quit being an idiot, and let's go inside where it's warm."
"I'm warning you, McKay," John hissed between clenched teeth. "Get away from me and stay away."
Sheppard could feel the rage turning cold and hard. All the hurt, anger, and loss was going to erupt, and he didn't want McKay to witness it. He was already stretched to his limit, and the alcohol had been hacking away at the thin tendril that was holding him together. John used his one good hand to steady himself as he stood up and faced Rodney, staggering a few steps toward him.
"Turn around, go back through those doors and do whatever it is that you do. Now."
McKay's jaw tightened, and he glared at John. "I don't think so. You've sat out here and felt sorry for yourself long enough." Rodney glanced down at the bottle. "And that is NOT helping. You won't find the answers in there, Sheppard."
"I don't think this is any of your business, McKay. I'm telling you for the last time to get lost."
"Or what? You gonna fight me with your feeble military mind? Maybe kill me with your rapier wit? You can barely stand up right now. And you smell like a brewery. So shut up, and let's go back inside and get you cleaned up."
Rodney reached for John's arm. Sheppard slapped his hand away and glowered at him through slitted eyes. "Touch me again, McKay, and you'll regret it." John stumbled backward until he reached the wall of the city and slid back down to where he'd been sitting. He picked up the bottle and took a long drink.
"'You'll regret it.'? That's the best you can do? Please. My 5 year old niece could come up with something better than that." McKay squatted down next to John and looked him in the eye. "And I wasn't kidding about not finding your answers in there, Sheppard. It may dull the pain for a while, but it won't take it away. Trust me, I know. You'll just feel worse tomorrow. Now, give me that bottle and let's go."
"You touch that bottle, and I'll make you wish you hadn't, McKay."
Rodney crossed his arms and stared defiantly back at Sheppard. Then he snatched the bottle out of John's hand and threw it as hard as he could at one of the pillars on the pier. As the bottle shattered, so did the rest of Sheppard's control.
His vision went red, and the roaring in his ears blocked all sound. He swung as hard as he could, his left hand connecting solidly with McKay's nose. He felt bone and cartilage crunch beneath his fist as Rodney's head whipped backward under the blow, blue eyes wide with disbelief. McKay stumbled and fell, staring at him while blood streamed down his face. But John was beyond caring. He reached for the scientist and jerked him to his feet. Sheppard just wanted to beat the crap out of something until it hurt as bad as he did. And since the wall hadn't cooperated….
He pulled his fist back to hit Rodney again and felt his arms being penned back. Sheppard struggled in the hold as he saw Teyla rush to McKay's side. Rodney didn't even move; he just stared at Sheppard in shock. John shouted inarticulately and continued to thrash even as he heard Ronon's voice in his ear.
"Sheppard! What the hell are you doing?"
John jolted awake at the insistent beeping of his alarm and then fell back against his pillow in relief. A dream. It had all been a dream, well, a nightmare really. He rolled over and slapped at the off button only yelp and jerk his hand back as pain radiated through his right arm. Oh, no. He slowly lifted his left hand and gaped in horror at the bruised and scraped knuckles. What had he done?
He rolled up and sat on the edge of his bed. The jack-hammering in his head testified to the size of his hangover. Gritty eyes and a mouth that felt full of cotton rounded out the physical reminders of the night before. But it was the sensation of Rodney's nose breaking under his fist that truly sickened him. He rested his forehead on his palms and closed his eyes. McKay's face flashed in his mind, blood gushing from his nose and eyes filled with pain. John glanced down at his clothes – same T-shirt and pants he'd been wearing the night before. He spotted his jacket tossed across the back of a chair.
John tried to recall what had happened. He remembered arguing with Rodney and punching him. Damn. If Ronon hadn't been there, hadn't pulled him off, Sheppard might have actually killed McKay. At the very least John would have severely injured the scientist. He sagged at the thought. He would probably never tell Rodney, never admit it to anyone, but Rodney was the brother he'd never had. McKay drove him insane on a regular basis, but no matter how many times John had considered strangling Rodney, he would have never actually hurt the man. At least he had thought so. How had he let this happen?
No matter how hard Sheppard concentrated, he couldn't recollect anything else clearly. The rest of the night was blank, just completely gone. He didn't remember being tended by medical personnel, but his fingers were splinted and taped. He had no idea how he'd gotten back to his quarters. And he shuddered to think of what else he might have or done. Had he hurt anyone else? His throat felt raw. He didn't know if that was from screaming or puking. How was he ever going to face his team again?
His door opened, and Ronon loomed at the entrance. And he looked pissed. "Good. You're awake. Let's go."
"Um, hey Big Guy. Look, uh, I'm not sure what hap-"
"Shut up and get moving, Sheppard."
Shut up? "Shut up?"
"Yes, shut up. You've got 5 minutes. Get a shower and get dressed."
"When did you start giving me orders?"
Ronon took a step forward and actually growled. "Last night. Now move."
"Oh." John studied Ronon's face for a second. He had first taken the Satedan's expression as anger, but now he wasn't so sure. Dex actually looked…shaken. John really wished he could remember what he'd done. He eased up from the bed and carefully made his way to the shower, rinsing, toweling off and getting dressed in record time. Ronon was still waiting when he emerged from the bathroom but turned and walked out the door at the sight of Sheppard. John followed him to the transporter.
When they exited, the two men were back at the East Pier. Teyla and Rodney were there already, sitting where the pilot had been the night before. Hearing them approach, the Athosian and the scientist turned, and John could see the damage he'd done. Both of McKay's eyes were blackened, his nose swollen and bandaged with bruises peeking from underneath. The nausea Sheppard had been fighting since awakening kicked up a notch. Rodney met his eyes, and John blinked in surprise at what he saw, or rather what he didn't see: no anger, no pain, no betrayal; just sadness.
"God, Rodney. I am so sorry. I don't… I have no idea… I mean-"
"Did you mean what you said, Colonel?"
"Um, well, that's the thing. I don't remember much of last night. All I can do is apologize for everything I said and did."
His 3 teammates exchanged glances. Teyla gave him a small smile. "John, please sit down."
"Sit down, Sheppard." Ronon grabbed his arm and pulled.
"What is the last thing you remember, John?"
Sheppard stared at his hands. "Hitting Rodney. Listen, I-"
Rodney stood up and began to pace. "So you don't remember anything you said after that?"
McKay looked at Ronon and Teyla. Dex shifted uncomfortably. Teyla seemed calm, but as Sheppard watched her, he could see the façade. His team wore the same expressions that they had after that unfortunate incident with the crystal that had given them nightmares. It had taken them quite some time to be easy around him again.
"What did I do? Did I hurt anyone else?"
"No, John, you didn't hurt anyone else. You…calmed down after a while."
Ronon snorted. "If that's what you'd call it."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"That means, Colonel, that after you screamed yourself hoarse, you passed out."
"Rodney, that is not helpful. Colonel, I took Dr. McKay to the infirmary while Ronon treated your hand and helped you to your quarters." Teyla sighed. "John, we wish to help. We never meant to hurt you. You must know that."
"Hurt me? What are you talking about?"
Rodney approached and squatted down, staring him straight in the eye. "She's talking about the part where you accused us of not trusting you, of betraying you."
John's breath caught, and he looked away. "I really said that?"
Ronon nodded. "Among other things. Look, Sheppard, we didn't bring you out here to repeat that conversation. I want to know if that was the alcohol talking, or if you really think I betrayed you."
John bit his lip and reflected a moment. He really sucked at this, but he knew he owed them an explanation.
"No, Ronon, I don't think you betrayed me. Or you, Teyla. Or you, Rodney. I had too much to drink and said stuff I didn't mean. But ever since Carson…and Elizabeth…."
"John, I know you have struggled with all that has happened since Dr. Beckett died. It has not been easy for any of us. And you took on a greater responsibility after Elizabeth was injured. We have faced many changes and challenges in a very short period of time, but we have faced them together. You are not alone."
"Teyla's right, Sheppard. The Satedans are my people, and I will probably return to them one day. The day that the last Wraith dies. Until then, I will fight them with you. You and your people saved my life and gave me a home when I had nothing."
"You told me once you considered us to be your family. I am honored that you would think of me so. You asked me last night why I did not trust you enough to tell you of my pregnancy. There is an Athosian ceremony to announce when a child is expected. Life is very precious to us. I have been waiting to find my people, and I wished to include all of you in the tradition. It was never a matter of trust. I trust you, John. We all do."
John looked at Teyla in shame. "I'm sorry, Teyla. I didn't realize."
"Then maybe you should just open your mouth and ask next time before diving off the deep end."
Teyla elbowed McKay. "Rodney!"
"I mean it! Listen, Colonel, I know how you feel. Carson was my best friend, and Elizabeth is one of the few people in the universe that I actually respect. Losing them wasn't fun for any of us. And we've had more crap thrown at us in the past few months than should be allowed. The only reason any of us are still sane is because we can depend on each other. When did you forget that?"
"I'm not done yet, Sheppard. You're not big on relying on other people. I get that. I really do. But I can guarantee that drowning yourself in booze won't fix what's wrong. I spent some quality time in Russia wrapped around a bottle of Vodka. The answers aren't there. It took me a long time to figure that out, and God knows how many of my invaluable brain cells were lost in the process."
John smiled and stood up. "McKay –"
Rodney walked up to him and gripped his shoulder, looking him square in the eye and said quietly, "What happened to Ford was not your fault, John. Neither is what happened to Carson and Elizabeth. Let it go. Please."
Sheppard felt his throat tighten with emotion, and he looked away. It sounded so simple to let go, but he just hadn't been able to yet. He really didn't want to break down in front of his team. The use of his first name by McKay had been a surprise. John hoped it meant forgiveness. He cleared his throat. "I really am sorry, Rodney."
McKay stepped back and smiled. "I know you are, and I know you didn't mean it. Don't give it another thought, until of course the next time I bring it up as blackmail, like when you shot me. You do realize people are going to think you broke your hand by hitting me, right?"
"Then we'll make up a better story. How about an accident in the lab?"
"Deal. I'll have to bribe Zelenka, of course."
"Just threaten to send him back to the kid planet if he tells."
Teyla giggled, and Ronon rolled his eyes. Things were getting back to normal.
The team headed back to the entryway, but Sheppard stopped before going through. "I apologize again for last night. Thanks for…well, everything."
"Think no more of it, Colonel Sheppard. We are your team. That is what we do."
John promised to meet them for dinner and headed to the infirmary to have his hand x-rayed and re-taped. After doing some fast talking to deflect Keller's wrath, he made his way back to his quarters. He locked the door, sat on the edge of his bed and considered what his team had said. He felt some of the broken pieces inside shift back into place.
He lay back and thought about Rodney's words: 'Let it go.' He didn't fight the memories or the emotions this time; he let them flood his mind. Sumner. Kolya. Weir. Carson. Ford. He closed his eyes and felt the cold lump in his heart slowly begin to melt and trickle from the corner of his eyes. Maybe he had learned the wrong lesson as a kid. Maybe the lesson to be learned was that the risk of caring about people had its rewards as well.
John checked his watch and hurried to the bathroom to wash his face and hands. Time to meet his family for dinner.