We, the Sparky Army, decree 2008 to be the Year of the Spark. We pledge to post a new sparky story or chapter of a sparky story every day from January 1, 2008 to December 31, 2008. Though the Powers the Be have removed Elizabeth Weir from the regular cast of Stargate Atlantis, we feel that she remains an integral part of the show, and that the relationship between her and John Sheppard is too obvious to be ignored. We hope that you, and anyone might happen to read these works, agree.

And if that isn't official enough for you, we don't know what is. Seriously, guys, we're just trying to have some fun--and show TPTB that Sparky is the way to go. So sit back and enjoy the 366 stories coming your way!

Author's note (Mama Jo): It's back to the first season of SGA, though this fic is also tied to fyd818's Journey to Forever/Shattered AU. Much appreciation to all the marvelous writers who signed up for the Year of the Spark, and congratulations for devotedly keeping it going. Again, many apologies for not being able to individually review your wonderful stories, or respond to your very kind reviews of mine; RL simply doesn't allow.

"...Like a Flower of the Field…"

by

Mama Jo

Major John Sheppard thought about emulating Keras's casual hop off the rope ladder from about four rungs up. However his legs, already stiff from a long night and half a morning spent sitting on the floor talking with the young leader of M7G-677, convinced him it was not a good idea. He compromised by hopping off the next-last rung, grimacing slightly in self-deprecation as he landed and his body protested the jolt.

Keras gave him a questioning look. "Sheppard?"

John rotated his shoulders a couple of times while tilting his head from one side to the other until his neck cracked. "Ah, just one of the consequences of a body getting – older," he said wryly. "On the other hand, though, you also get to look forward to bouncing the grandkids on your knee."

Keras's puzzled expression only deepened. "'Grand kids?'" he repeated, breaking the word into two distinct syllables.

"Yeah, grandkids. You know, when your kids grow up and have kids—" Sheppard broke off, rolling his eyes at his own stupidity. "No, I guess you wouldn't know."

The elder's sweet smile broke across his face as he mulled over the concept. "I – see. And, thanks to you, Sheppard, I will see my children's children. Grand kids. Grandkids." He practiced running the words together into one. Drawing a deep breath, he passed a long look around at the settlement. John also took a quick glance around, taking in the ongoing daily activities. "You have given us not only our lives, but it feels like a whole new world as well." Keras returned his open, almost intense gaze to the major's face. "And thanks to Dr. Weir's assistance, it will be a world unencumbered by old, useless laws."

Across the clear space at the center of the village, a figure paused to look Sheppard and Keras over carefully: Aries. John returned the look, feeling his own face automatically go expressionless. After a long moment, the second-eldest slightly inclined his head before continuing on his way. Sheppard kept his narrowed gaze on him until he was out of sight.

"I'm surprised he has the guts to show his face around here, considering what he tried to pull," he muttered more or less to himself.

"Aries believed himself to be protecting our people," Keras said calmly.

"If you say so. Still, I'd keep an eye on him. I'm not sure there wasn't a lot of opportunism behind his so-called altruism."

Keras chuckled. "Oh, knowing Aries, I'm sure there was some. It did genuinely shake him when he realized he'd been so wrong in passionately pursuing what he'd considered to be so right. He does try to consider things with a cooler perspective now. Dr. Weir calls him the 'loyal opposition,' and says he will 'help to keep me honest.'"

Acknowledging inwardly that he might be slightly prejudiced by his earlier, near-fatal confrontation with Aries, John made himself relax. "Speaking of Elizabeth, I guess I need to round her and the others up, and head back to Atlantis. Keras, we'll keep in touch. Don't hesitate to use that code we gave you if you need us before then."

"Thank you, Sheppard. As always, I have enjoyed our conversation, and look forward to your next visit." The two men clasped each other's forearms warmly, and parted. As John walked down the now-familiar forest track toward the ruins harboring the shield device, he found himself reflecting on the bond that had formed so quickly and easily between him and the young elder.

I wouldn't have minded having a brother like Keras, he thought with unaccustomed wistfulness. Or even. . .a son.

From long habit, he shut that down, fast. Instead he forced himself to concentrate on his surroundings, even though this was one of the few places in the Pegasus galaxy where a sudden culling by the Wraith was not an ever-present fear – as long as one was within the shielded area. Wondering how McKay was progressing on his investigation of said technology, he soon saw the first blocks of fallen stone looming out of the forest floor ahead of him. The next thing to greet his sight was Lt. Ford sitting with his back propped against the base of a tumbled pillar not far from the grotto housing the ZPM-powered shield.

"Major Sheppard! Heading back to Atlantis now, sir?"

John slowed his steps to a halt as the young Marine scrambled easily to his feet, taking grim note of how often that particular adjective seemed to be cropping up in his thoughts. It wasn't that he really felt old, he told himself. But he was, he had to admit, feeling distinctly middle-aged. "Once we pry McKay out of his crypt, yeah. It's still a long walk to where we parked the jumper." He swept a look from left to right. "Where are Elizabeth and Teyla?"

Before Ford could answer, Dr. Rodney McKay stuck his head through the leafy branches curtaining the entrance to the shield generator's hiding place. "Ah, Major Sheppard, I thought I heard your unmistakably mellow tones," he said sharply. With practiced ease, Sheppard kept his amusement tightly concealed as the rest of the Canadian's body emerged into the daylight. Good: As he'd intended, the cranky scientist had caught John's "crypt" comment. "I thought we were supposed to leave at midday?"

Nonchalantly, the major pointed a finger at the sky, and the sun hanging just off its zenith. "It pretty much is midday, Rodney," he said mildly, noticing how in the background Ford had to fight to keep from cracking up. "So, again – where are Elizabeth and Teyla?"

McKay gave him one of his patented glares and snapped, "How should I know? The bratlets came by two or three hours and ago, and they went off with them, I don't know where!"

"He's talking about Cleo and Casta, sir," Ford put in. "The kids wanted to show Teyla and Dr. Weir something over in that direction," he gestured to the opening of another trail through the forest, "and since it seemed to be kinda on the way back to the jumper, they didn't see any harm in going. It's barely been an hour. Want me to go retrieve them for you?"

With only a minor qualm over not giving Aiden a reprieve from riding herd on their teammate, Sheppard replied, "No, thanks, Lieutenant. You and McKay go on ahead from here, and we'll meet you there." He wanted to add the standard "dirty job" crack, but didn't want to leave the younger – the other, he deliberately corrected himself – man to deal with the fallout.

"Yes, sir." Ford's expression held only a trace of rueful resignation at his superior officer's betrayal.

John set off down the designated path, a little more aware than usual of the ache in the ankle he'd broken – twice – several years ago. Not to mention, the arm, shoulder, and ribs. . .

. . .Okay, he thought fiercely, so I'm not twenty-something anymore! But I'm a long ways from being a greybeard, either!

So why do I feel it's not so far around the corner for me?

The leaves of the forest to either side of him rustled, seeming to whisper something into the passing breeze, shaping words in the backmost recesses of his mind: As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.

It was part of the service for the dead. Gooseflesh prickled over his skin as he realized the source of what he was thinking. John paused long enough to shiver once, very hard, then threw himself into a quick jog. Like you can outrun your own mortality, a voice jeered darkly within his mind. An image rose up out of memory: Colonel Sumner, centered in his gun's sights, withering into an ancient, suffering husk. And here that can happen, even to you – so fast

Sounds reached his ears. Only gradually did he realize he'd been hearing them for some time, masked as they'd been by the noise generated from his own rapid passage through the forest. He slowed, the better to hear the sounds dancing down the breeze; the sounds of voices carrying to him from a break in the trees ahead, where sunlight unfiltered by trees suddenly shone brightly on a grassy, flower-strewn meadow. John stopped under the eaves of the forest as the sound of one voice in particular rose above the others:

Elizabeth, laughing.

He stood, hardly daring to breathe, transfixed by the sight in front of him:

Elizabeth, Casta and Cleo on either side of her, grasping her hands, twirling her in place as they ran in circles around her. Elizabeth, her head thrown back, her beautiful face turned upward as her lighthearted laughter rang up into the cloudless sky above; Elizabeth, cheeks flushed rosy, dark curls blown and disheveled, looking absolutely carefree. . .

. . .John's own heart lightened in response, all his dark and heavy musings wisping away in the face of such pure and uncomplicated joy. He leaned a shoulder against a nearby tree, and drank it in, storing it up for whatever times lay ahead.

And suddenly, he didn't feel even middle-aged any more.

The End