Good Night, Mr. Sheppard (V.2)

It was very strange, this being dead. There was no sense of time passing at all, not in the traditional sense of such things. He had been there, at the wake and the funeral. He had witnessed the unpleasant exchange between his two sons when John had left early with the woman and the big man with the dreadlocks. He knew that days had passed, but it didn't seem that way at all to him. He had been there observing the whole affair as John and his men chased down the robot man; then he simply wasn't.

And now he was here, watching with an ache inside that went deeper than he'd ever thought possible as his sons stood in the entryway of the house where he had raised them. Their discomfort filled the entire room and neither of them knew what to say to the other. To see the tangible evidence of his failure so plainly laid out before him was more painful than anything he'd ever experienced. They were virtual strangers, in spite of their history and regardless of the fact that they shared the same blood. And it was his fault that it had all come down to this.

"So..."

"So..."

The two spoke at precisely the same time. John smirked, bringing a youthfulness to his features that took Patrick back to his son's boyhood years. Back to the days before virtually every conversation had ended in a shouting match between them which inevitably left poor Dave in the middle to act as peacemaker. The boys had been so close before that and he was only now realizing how much his well-intentioned planning of their futures had cost both of his sons. John hadn't seen the flash of annoyance cross his brother's features at their simultaneous identical attempts to facilitate a conversation, but Patrick had seen and felt it as plain as day. With it, his hopes for a reconciliation between the brothers plummeted.

To Dave's credit though he smothered his anger as quickly as it had appeared, moving effortlessly into the role of gracious host. "Shall we take this somewhere a little more comfortable?" John nodded and allowed Dave to lead the way. Patrick followed and was pleased to see the warmth in his youngest's eyes when he turned to his brother as they entered the family room. "Can I get you a drink or anything?"

"I could go for an ice water, if you have it handy. Thanks." Patrick could tell how badly John had wanted to ask for something much stronger, but something had stopped him. He frowned, trying to figure out what was going on with his eldest as his youngest went straight to the bar.

"You sure you don't want something else?" Dave watched his brother as he warily pulled out a couple of glasses and took the lid off of the ice bucket.

John smiled, not hesitating in his answer as he took a seat on the plush leather sofa. "Thanks, but no, I really need to stick with the water."

"Okay, ice water it is then." Clearly not happy with his brother's answer, Dave set about pouring himself a scotch. He dropped the cubes of ice into John's glass and suddenly slammed the tongs down on the counter. "All right, I'm sorry, but I have to ask and I think I deserve to know. This 'work-related' thing that you just had to leave Dad's wake to deal with--is it over? Or should I expect the phone to ring any moment now, after which you'll run out in the middle of our conversation?"

"What?" John was on his feet before he even spoke, glowering at his brother. "Look. I can't talk about work--you know that."

"I'll take that as a yes then." The veins on Dave's neck were throbbing and Patrick could feel his anger grow with each successive pulse. He was helpless, unable to do anything but stand there and watch as Dave picked up the bottle of water to pour and then promptly slammed it back down on the table without even removing the lid. "Why did you even bother to come here?"

John's fists were clenched tight, but to Patrick's relief he remained standing in front of the sofa, keeping a safe distance between them. "I came here because I wanted to try...never mind. It was a stupid idea. Sorry I bothered you." And then, to Patrick's dismay, he headed for the door.

"No, wait." Dave's head was bowed, his eyes closed. "Please, don't go. I'm glad you came. I'd like...I'd like to try, too." He looked up then, his anger fading. "I'm sorry. I guess old habits are hard to break. Please. Stay?"

John scrubbed a hand through his stubbornly unruly hair, staring down at the floor. "I don't know, Dave." He looked up then, a frank expression on his face. "Maybe it would be better if I didn't, at least not now. Maybe we should, I don't know, wait awhile. Or something."

Dave nodded, his hurt showing plainly on his face. "All right. I understand. I mean, if...if that's what you want..."

Patrick knew they couldn't hear him, but he couldn't help voicing his opinion anyway. "For God's sake, John! When are you going to stop running? Dave is trying--can't you at least meet him halfway?"

But he was dead and John couldn't hear him, so his words had no affect at all. John shifted uncomfortably, his hand still on the back of his neck. "I'll...be in touch. Take care of yourself." And with a half-wave, he disappeared down the hallway.

"NO! Damn it, John, don't you dare leave things like this!" Patrick's frustration and despair had reached the breaking point. It didn't matter that neither of them could hear or see him. It didn't matter that in the end, there was absolutely nothing he could physically do to breach the chasm that he had created between his two sons. Never in his life had he so badly wanted to grab everything within his reach and throw it across the room. But in his life, he hadn't been able to see what he now saw so clearly before him in his death. What should have been his greatest accomplishment, his true legacy, was in fact his greatest failure. For as much as he wanted to lay the blame for this at John's feet, he knew that the rift between these two brothers had started with him and his stupid insistence that John follow Patrick's plan for his life instead of his own.

He dropped heavily into his favorite chair, the one by the window where he'd confessed his failure to his youngest son not that long ago. As he sat there, his head in his hands, he heard the clink of crystal on crystal as Dave poured himself another drink. This being dead thing certainly sucked. Royally. Patrick couldn't remember ever wanting a drink so badly as he did right then. He could feel Dave's hurt over his brother's rejection, but there was nothing he could do to comfort or reassure him. Or to make John see reason--though he hadn't exactly excelled at that when he was alive either. It was time to face facts: he was a failure. Pure and simple, complete and utter. A door slammed in another part of the house, signalling John's exit and the end of his hopes for a reconciliation between his sons. A final exclamation point to the most spectacular mistake he'd ever made. "Way to go, Patrick. You've certainly done a bang-up job with this one." He said the words out loud, even though he knew no one else could hear.

"Okay, look. I don't want to leave things like this either, but I don't see the point in my staying if you're going to keep going off on me about my job. So you tell me--should I stay or should I go?"

If he hadn't been dead, Patrick would have cried at the sight of John leaning lazily against the doorway, his arms crossed. He'd come back. His oldest still had some misgivings, but he was willing to try if Dave agreed. Patrick sank back into his chair, relieved that there was yet a chance for his sons to re-establish some sort of meaningful relationship. "Come on, Dave," he urged his youngest. "John's willing to try. Now it's your turn."

The youngest Sheppard's smile was warm and genuine as he poured water over the ice in John's glass. With ice water in one hand and his own scotch in the other, he crossed the room to hand his brother the drink. "Please, stay. I promise I won't..." Dave's voice trailed off, replaced by a wry smile. "You'd think I'd have learned by now not to make promises I can't keep." The smile disappeared, his expression turning serious. "I want to swear that I won't get angry about certain things. But I think we both know that's a promise I wouldn't be able to keep. All I can do is promise to do my best to control my temper, especially where your job is concerned. Will that do?"

"Yeah," John replied. "That'll do just fine."

"Good. I suppose that's a start then. Shall we?" The younger Sheppard swept his arm toward the sofa and Patrick's chair.

John nodded, pulling up sharply as his hand went to his neck. Dave heard his brother's hiss of discomfort and frowned. "What on Earth happened to your neck?" His eyes widened in sudden comprehension. "This is why you're abstaining from alcohol, isn't it? You're on medication for your injury."

Though he'd dropped his hand almost immediately, it automatically returned to his neck upon his brother's questions, as if covering the livid bruises would make them go away. "I'm fine. Really. And I'm sorry, but at the risk of setting you off again, I can't tell you what happened."

Dave's face hardened, his grip tightening on the glass in his hand. "Oh, well of course..." He stopped himself from saying anymore and Patrick could feel him struggle to let go of his anger. "I'm sorry. I really am trying here. Please, come back and sit down. Please?"

Patrick's emotional rollercoaster continued as John handed Dave the glass of water right back. John looked over to the sofa where he'd been sitting before the tempers had flared and then back at Dave. "I changed my mind." Patrick was dismayed--until John continued. "So if you have any more of that," he said, pointing at Dave's scotch. "I think I could probably use some if I'm going to stay."

"Of course...but you seemed so adamant earlier about no alcohol--are you certain it's wise to mix whatever medication you're taking with scotch? Though it is some mighty fine scotch, that I will grant you." Dave's face echoed Patrick's worry and he braced himself for John's reaction to being questioned.

To his father's immense relief, John simply flashed his brother one of his trademark smirks. "No, mixing the two would definitely not be wise. But I'm due for another dose right about now, so there won't be any mixing involved. And I think your very fine scotch there would far better serve my purposes right about now, so..."

"Oh, okay. Good. That's good. I'll pour you a drink and we can...talk." Dave turned toward the bar, but hesitated. "Look, I wasn't...I didn't mean to imply in any way that you were being careless or irresponsible. I-I...we just lost Dad. I know we aren't exactly close anymore, but...I don't...if anything were to happen to my big brother..."

John looked almost stunned. "O-okay. You're right. I know we...I know what..." He sighed deeply, shaking his head. "Let's just say no offense taken and leave it at that, shall we?"

His shoulders slumping in obvious relief, Dave nodded before proceeding to the bar to pour him a scotch while his brother took a seat on the sofa next to Patrick's chair.

Patrick stayed in his seat, taking to opportunity to study--really study--his eldest son. Almost as if he knew that his father was beside him, John gazed out the window, providing Patrick a good look at the vivid bruises on his neck. Stunned that he hadn't noticed them earlier, he continued his visual inspection, searching carefully for any further damage. His examination revealed a few assorted scrapes and contusions, but thankfully nothing of the caliber of the marks on his neck. He looked tired though, thought Patrick, but given what he'd what he'd witnessed his son go through to eliminate the robot, he had to admit that it wasn't surprising. Upon further consideration, it occurred to him that John had the look of one who carried a heavy weight on his shoulders. There were far too many lines etched into his features, and while some of that was no doubt from the passage of time, Patrick recognized the physical manifestations wrought by the burden of leadership all too well. His thoughts drifted again back to the conversation with the President and that, along with what he'd witnessed with his own eyes, eliminated any lingering doubt in his mind that his son was far more than just another Air Force pilot.

He was pulled from his musings by the arrival of his youngest as Dave joined his brother on the sofa, placing a tray with two tumblers and a full decanter on the coffee table. After handing John a tumbler of the expensive amber fluid, he raised his own glass in a toast. "To Dad?"

John clinked his drink against Dave's, but said nothing. A painfully uncomfortable silence fell over the room as each of the brothers searched for way to reach out to the other. Each drained his glass and refilled it, silently raising his newly filled tumbler to the other before again drinking deeply.

After what seemed an eternity to both men, John was the one to finally break the silence. "So. You staying then? With the business?"

Dave blinked in surprise, turning to his brother with a frown. "Why? Surely you aren't trying to tell me that you actually want to come work for the company after all these years?"

Now it was John's turn to look surprised. "What? No! No way. I just thought...well, you seemed a little resentful at the wake when you said you were the one who stayed to run it. I was just thinking that there's nothing really holding you there now. If there was something else you'd wanted to do, I mean."

Eyeing his brother warily, Dave held his temper and sought to further clarify John's meaning and intentions. "So what, you think I should just hand the company that our father spent his whole life building over to a total stranger while I pursue other avenues? Just forget that this was Dad's legacy to us and blow it off like it means nothing?"

John took another long drink and filled his glass for the third time. It was obvious he was taking his time before answering, not wanting to say the wrong thing and set his younger sibling off yet again. With a deep sigh, he finally turned to face his brother. "What I'm saying is that you need to follow your dreams now. If that means staying and running the business, then fine. But if there's something else you want to do, something you've denied yourself because it wasn't what Dad wanted, then you should do it. Don't spend your whole life living someone else's dream. The company isn't going anywhere. You don't have to give up controlling interest, but you also don't have to be there day in and day out. If there's something else you've always wanted to do, you should do it. That's all I'm saying."

"You really don't get it, do you?" Dave was hanging onto his temper, but only just. Patrick was angry at John too, but there was also a part of him that realized that his eldest was right. His day was done. It was long past time that both of his boys found fulfillment, even if that meant someone else running the business. He only wished he'd realized that sooner. And though he was deeply ashamed to admit it, he didn't have the slightest clue whether or not his youngest even had any unfulfilled dreams or aspirations.

Dave abruptly rose and went to stand in front of the window, pulling Patrick's attention back to the situation at hand. He didn't even so much as glance at his brother as he laid it all out. "For your information, I love everything about the business. If you or anyone else intend to try to take it away from me, you're going to have a helluva fight on your hands." He took a long sip from his scotch to allow John to digest his words, but he was far from finished. "You want to know what I really resent? What I was--am really angry about?"

To his credit John didn't back down or run away, even though his father could feel his urge to do exactly that building. Then he stood and for a brief instant Patrick thought he might have misjudged, but his son merely grabbed his glass and joined his brother at the window. Neither man looked directly at the other, choosing to communicate through the reflections in the glass instead. "Whether I want to know or not is irrelevant. If we really are going to give this thing a shot, we both need to lay all our cards on the table. No holding back. So go ahead, little brother. Lay it on me."

Dave nodded, and when he finally spoke, his voice was tight with anger. "Fine. You're right, we need to lay it all out if we're going to have any real chance at this." He stared down into his glass, swirling the liquid inside as he carefully chose his next words. "He needed you. I needed you. And you weren't here. You never came, not until it was too late. I left message after message with your unit commander at Peterson, but not once did you ever even acknowledge them."

Stunned, John turned to face him but said nothing. He looked stricken, his mind reeling from his brother's words. It hit Patrick like a physical blow and he couldn't help but cry out. "No, John! It's all right--it's all my fault. I'm the one who pushed you away. Do you hear me? It's MY fault."

His words, of course, fell on deaf ears. Dave not only didn't hear his father, he didn't seem to notice his brother's distress either and let his feelings continue to pour out. "No, your precious job was more important than Dad. Or me. Do you have any idea what it's like to watch someone waste away little by little, right before your eyes? Because I do, thanks to you. I was the one who stayed with him in the hospital. I was the one who held his hand and reassured him you'd be there any moment, all the while knowing it was a big fat lie. I made excuses for you, promised him that you wanted to be there and that if there was any way possible you'd come. I was the one who talked to the doctors and made the decisions, because you were too busy with your precious job to be bothered!"

Patrick suddenly found himself standing next to the boys at the window, but he could do nothing save to watch in horror as his youngest ripped his oldest to shreds. "Dave, no, please, don't do this," he begged, knowing all the while his plea would not be heard.

John took a moment to find his voice. "I'm sorry." His eyes shone with unshed tears, but he refused to allow them to fall. "I thought...I thought I was doing you a favor by staying away. I thought my being there would only make things worse. You know how he-I-we were. I thought my being there would only make things worse. I didn't think he wanted me there."

"Well you thought wrong--about all of it!" Dave turned and walked away, his anger fading as rapidly as it had spiked. Plopping wearily down onto the sofa, he poured himself another whiskey. Unable to bring himself to look at his brother, he took a long drink before he spoke again. "You were both wrong. He should have tried to get in touch after his trip to Washington. I should have made certain that he did."

At last, he lifted misty eyes to meet John's. "So I guess there's plenty of blame for all of us."

"I'm sorry." John barely managed to choke out the words and had to force himself to continue. "I didn't realize. I shouldn't have left you to deal with all of it alone. I guess I just assumed you didn't need me. You've always been the one who handled things. Way better than I ever did. It never occurred to me that you might need or want my help."

Had he any breath to hold, Patrick would have done so as he awaited Dave's response. He could feel that both of his sons realized that this was make-or-break time, even though both were experiencing such strong emotions. But would that be enough?