The flash of light faded, and David Sheppard was left standing on the driveway before his front door. For a long time, he just stood there, drinking in the muggy night air and smelling the familiar scent of the roses he'd had planted in the flowerbeds this spring. David traveled a lot, and coming home from a week away was not an unusual experience. Coming home from another planet, however, was. Everything suddenly seemed new again as he saw them with fresh eyes. Like that pile of newspapers against the garage door and the bulging mailbox hanging underneath the porch light. He hadn't had the time or the even the thought to put his deliveries on hold while he was gone.
Finally deciding he'd gawked enough, he dug his keys out of his pocket and unlocked the door. He had spent another day in Cheyenne Mountain after traveling through the Intergalactic 'Gate Network, and he was exhausted. Once inside, he tossed his keys at the little table, and wearily hung his coat on the coat rack before he turned into his office and set the laptop onto the rosewood desk. The glass of water still sat on the glass desktop, the puddle underneath having long since dried and left behind a faint ring.
With a sigh, he flipped open his briefcase, unopened during the entire trip except for inspection as he'd left the mountain. He pulled out his laptop and plugged it into its charger, then had to run back to the entryway to get his cell phone out of his coat pocket to do the same. While the devices charged enough for him to turn them on, he took the stale glass of water into the kitchen and fixed himself another cold glass.
At last he sank down into his large, leather desk chair. He looked at his watch. It said 10:00 p.m.
David was seriously tempted to simply go to bed. He was so far behind on work that another 8 hours wouldn't make much of a difference. He had managed to get a few brief messages out to his administrative assistant and his Vice President the day he'd left for Atlantis, the JAG lawyers had granted him that much access to a computer. But he finally decided he should at least check to make sure there were no serious matters that required immediate attention.
And he was desperate to talk to Julia. He needed to hear her voice, even if only recorded in voicemail.
He powered up the computer, then set it to start downloading email. He grimaced a bit guiltily as the scrollbar indicated hundreds of messages waiting for him, the subjects popping into the inbox one by one and scrolling up to and off the top of the screen. Leaving it to run for the moment, he poked his cell phone and watched as it searched for a connection. Almost as soon as the phone found the network, it beeped a notice that messages were waiting for him. David smiled as he recognized most of the numbers on the "missed call" list as Julia.
An instant later, he almost dropped the phone when it rang and vibrated in his hand. Still startled, he snapped it open automatically, forgetting to check the caller ID.
"Hello?" he said, also forgetting to announce his name.
"David! Oh thank goodness, you're back. We've been really worried. How are you? When did you get in? Where are you? How's your brother? Did you see him?"
Julia would have gone on for another twenty minutes if David hadn't laughed out loud and startled her in return.
"David? Are you OK?" Julia asked.
"I'm better now you've called," he said once he was finally able to control the laughter. He felt a week's worth of tension slide out of his body and through the seat of his chair into the floor. His voice grew soft with affection. "Much better now you've called."
"When did you get back?"
"Just now, actually. About 10 mintues ago. I'm at home, to answer another of your questions, nosy woman. And yes, I saw my brother. He's well. He's going to recover. I- I got there in time." Julia was quick to pick up on his unspoken relief.
"David, I'm so glad. I'm glad you went, and I'm glad John is going to be OK. Did you learn more about what your brother does? Where he works?"
David paused, the past day of threats and warnings about the secrecy surrounding Atlantis still ringing fresh in his mind. General Landry had been quite – clear – about what was expected in keeping that secret. For a moment, David wasn't sure how to answer.
"I learned a lot actually," he started slowly. "John works in a Top Secret facility that I can't begin to describe adequately without calling the wrath of the government down upon me. The whole thing is simply…incredible." Julia laughed.
"Incredible, as in…?"
"Completely unbelievable, yes," David said with a chuckle of his own. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you."
"Well then don't, because I don't want the wrath of the government taking you away again for another week. I missed you, and I'm glad you're back. Even if you can't tell me where you went."
"I missed you, too. How have things been? Were you able to check in with Walter during the week?" Julia snorted.
"Yes, we've been in touch several times. He wanted to put an APB out for you on Thursday, but I talked him down –."
They were soon lost in the chitchat of business and acquaintances and the camaraderie of friends who shared a familiar lifestyle and way of understanding the world. For David, who had been in such a foreign environment all week, the easy conversation felt something like relief. He realized that while he was now better able to appreciate John's world and John's responsibilities, he would never understand it. He could never be comfortable there. He suddenly realized why John maybe never felt comfortable here.
As they talked and caught up, David kept half an eye on the scrolling email messages. At long last, the download stopped, and no more appeared at the bottom of the screen.
Julia was saying, "So, David, you have to tell me more about your trip. As much as you're allowed, anyway. How did you and your brother get along? Did you have a chance to talk any? Patch things up?" David thought for a moment, hearing the curiosity in her voice. Another thing he didn't exactly understand was just why Julia was so interested in his relationship with his brother. She had never met John, never even seen any pictures except what Dad, and now David, had on his mantel. And those were long out of date.
"John was badly injured, so he was actually unconscious for most of my visit," David said at last.
"I'm so sorry," Julia interrupted softly. David just went on.
"But we had a chance to talk just before I left, and I spent a lot of time with John's friends. He works with some very interesting people."
"This Ronon person you mentioned at the wake?"
"Yes. He and a woman who serves on John's team named Teyla seem particularly close to John. And a scientist named McKay – I think I can say his name – was the person who actually saved John's life. I got the impression that McKay was close too."
"You can learn a lot about someone by their friends," Julia stated.
"I'm learning that."
"So. Did your little brother happen to impress you? Or is he still just a kid who flies helicopters and remains unworthy of the family name?" Julia's tone was teasing, but David could hear the challenge in her voice. He chuckled again at her tenacity on this topic. David had no words for everything he'd thought and felt over this past week, so he just gave Julia the answer he'd given to Colonel Carter.
"My brother is a remarkable man, Julia," David said. "I think, if Dad had been able to get past the fact that he's still Air Force, I think Dad would have been proud of him." There was a slight pause on the other end of the line.
"And what about you, David?"
The question took David by surprise. He didn't feel it appropriate to take pride in his brother. That wasn't his right. To do so would imply that David had some responsibility for, or influence over, John's life. And David was slowly becoming comfortable with the idea that he wasn't responsible for John. John was fully capable of being responsible for himself. And for a whole lot of other people who depended on him.
"John should be proud. He's done well for himself," David said firmly. Julia seemed pleased with the answer.
"I'm really glad to hear you say that. Do you think John will come back for a visit soon?"
David shook his head privately before answering. He didn't think so. John was happy where he was. And while they'd formed an uneasy truce, David didn't think they'd ever be truly close. Family dinners and weekend vacations together were a long way off for John. If ever.
"No. I don't think John will come around very much. He's…needed where he is." Julia's answer was disappointed, but understanding. David yawned and blinked tiredly. He reached to close the laptop, deciding to wait until tomorrow to scan his email before he went in to the office. As he touched the screen, one last message popped into the inbox, and to David's immense surprise, it was from John.
"Hey!" he blurted out, "Speaking of, I just got a message from John."
"Go ahead, read it," Julia encouraged, for once not minding that David had been checking mail while talking to her. He usually got yelled at for doing so. David clicked on the message.
The subject line said, "Who's Julia?" and the message when opened contained just one sentence: "Is she hot?"
David laughed long and hard to Julia's amused frustration. Finally, David answered her repeated queries with a tactful, "John says he'd like to meet you, too."
"Oh, good. Would you write to him from me that I'm sorry I got to the wake late and missed him, and that I look forward to getting all of us together sometime?"
"Sure," David replied mildly. He hit the reply button and typed two words. "Yes. Very." He hit send, now wondering things like when the next communication through the Stargate would be opened, and how long it would take them to rebuild the midway station. He yawned again.
"Done. I sent John a quick note. And now, I think I'd better go to bed or I'm going to fall asleep at my desk."
"Jet lag?" Julia asked sympathetically.
"You have no idea." The weariness was taking a firm hold, pulling him deep into lethargic grogginess.
"Then I'll let you go. I'm glad you're home, David."
"I'm really glad to be home."
A sudden rush of feeling overcame him and David closed his eyes, speaking into the phone with soft desperation. "Julia, can you come to the Ranch this weekend? I need to see you. I can't live another week without seeing you. I'll be catching up for a month, but I can work from the Ranch and I'll take you to The Farmhouse for breakfast." He realized he was pleading, even bribing Julia with her favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurant.
"I think I can arrange that," Julia answered, her voice also husky with emotion.
"Good. Good. I can make it to Friday, then. Just – Good."
"I'll talk to you tomorrow, and I'll see you Friday. Goodbye, David."
David slumped over the desk and buried his face in his hands. He felt suddenly very alone, and he thought of his only brother, thousands of light-years away on a distant planet in another galaxy. Fully recognizing the futility of the act, he hit refresh on his inbox, hoping another message from John might pop in. No messages appeared, and a tiny gnawing seed of worry settled permanently into David's subconscious.
Pulling himself together with shaky control, he forced himself to focus on the work he had ahead of him, and the sanctuary of a weekend with Julia. Come to think of it, Teyla reminded him just a little bit of Julia. They both had a pointed wisdom, and a strength born of dealing with men in a man's world. The thought made him feel just a little better. John was in good hands, he had good friends.
David closed the laptop, flicked off the desk lamp, and trudged upstairs towards his bed. Twenty minutes later he was pulling his covers down and he sank gratefully into the bed's familiar softness. As he closed his eyes and tried to sleep, David wondered if John was still confined to the infirmary, or if he had been allowed to return to his own quarters, yet. He realized he hadn't even seen John's place. John's friends had not included that private space in the tour of Atlantis. He wondered if John would need any help once he did return to his own room. Would he be able to get his friends to bring him meals or help him dress?
David felt a sudden urge to contact Dr. Keller and make sure that such post-recovery considerations were being taken care of. Just as quickly, he dismissed the impulse, remembering John struggling through incredible pain as he controlled the chair and won the battle for Atlantis. John was tough, of that, David was certain. David reminded himself, yet again, that John didn't need his big brother watching out for him. John hadn't needed anyone for more than 10 years.
This time, that thought was comforting.
A/N: Thanks to everyone who made it this far. I admit, that I'm a bit sad to say goodbye to good ol' Dave. He was fun to learn about. In fact, this whole story is something of a record. Record number of alerts, record number of reviews and pageviews. My author alerts and favorite author stats also hit milestones during this journey so I need to just say, thank you and I'm so happy that so many others are enjoying the story as much as I've enjoyed writing it.