IDEK. Just sayin'. And I really, really hope this is logical. And if I'm stretching the bounds of even AU too far, someone let me know and I'll...see what I can figure out. Spoilers for The Return 1 and 2. I really, seriously, hope this logically works. The power of the Will again? Yes? Maybe. Anyway, I hope you all enjoy.
Despite what she was classifying as home, the cold fact was there was no longer an Atlantis Expedition, and Ali was in the rough spot of saying goodbye to some of the first new friends she had made. Most of the Marines were still at Cheyenne Mountain, waiting for reassignment or to figure out if they would be absorbed into 'gate teams there, but for many of the scientists – especially the international ones – it was time to buy plane tickets and head back to where they'd first been when they'd been recruited for the project.
Ali stood in the parking lot as one of the last groups of international scientists, soldiers, and personnel got ready to get in the van and be driven to the Colorado Springs airport. There would be more connecting flights for many of them, most likely from Detroit or maybe New York or Boston on the east coast.
"Little Sheppard," said Radek. He gave her a hug, muttering briefly in Czech as they parted. "Keep an eye on the Colonel, yes?"
"Yeah," she said. "I can do that."
He gave her shoulder one last squeeze before climbing into the van. Carson was next in line, and he pulled her into a hug as well. "Head up, lass, yeh'll be alright."
She nodded against his chest. "Yeah."
"'Course yeh will. Yeh've got yer dad with yeh."
Ali chuckled. Yes, yes she did. "Letters and email, Doc. Letters and email."
Carson laughed outright at that. "Look forward to hearing from yeh."
There were some other scientists she'd only met briefly who gave her a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder, but it was Radek and Carson she missed the most as the van pulled out of the parking lot. She watched it go until she couldn't see it anymore, then waited for security to let her back through the gate and down through the tunnel into the mountain. John would hopefully be out of his meeting by then, and since it was around lunchtime, she figured the place to run into him best would be the cafeteria.
It was easy to tell Cheyenne Mountain personnel from Atlantis personnel because the Cheyenne personnel looked at her oddly, trying to discern why she was in their midst. The Atlantis personnel had become accustomed to her in their cafeteria, waving and acknowledging her presence. She didn't see an overly familiar face in the crowd, so she could her sandwich, pudding cup, and bottle of water, and found herself an empty, out of the way table where she could watch for John.
She wondered idly if the first day of her return to high school would be much the same.
"Hey, kiddo," John said, sliding into the seat across from her after a glance around. Anyone who didn't have anything better to do but sit and puzzle on the strange girl in the cafeteria hastily returned to their lunch, and what had been Atlantis personnel gave John some sort of small signal of recognition.
"Hi, John." She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, debating whether she wanted to eat her pudding cup or not. "Good meeting?"
He shrugged, not willing to tell her it had nearly bored him to tears and he was hoping for an intervening Wraith attack before he remembered he was in the wrong galaxy for it. She, however, could tell by his facial expression. And since he could figure out how to phrase his next bit of useful information, he decided he might as well simply spit it out. "We're staying in Colorado Springs."
She smiled slightly, fighting it. "Really?"
"Really." John reached into his BDU side cargo pocket and pulled out some folded newspaper. "Real Estate pages that General O'Neill put together. The ones that are circled in red are ones in your old school district." He handed them to her, watching her unfold them carefully. There was a bombshell on the second page he needed to warn her about. "The house you used to live in is on page two."
Ali's head jerked up. "It is?"
He nodded slowly. "It's still on the market. Well, back on the market. Someone only briefly lived there at the beginning of the summer and moved out a little while ago."
She wasn't quite sure what to feel. Or what to say. So she bent her head and looked at the little black and white pictures of the houses Jack had circled to give them a starting point. She was drawn to the one of her house, the place she had spent a majority of her life with her mother.
John looked up from where he was doctoring his turkey sandwich.
"What are….what…" She looked at him helplessly. Were there guidelines she was supposd to follow? Unwritten rules? Was there a price range for the pair of them? Everything circled was actual houses, not apartments, and it was almost overwhelming. Would he be alright with moving back into the house she and her mother had shared for years?
"I'm following your lead on this one, kiddo," he said, wiping his hands on his napkin before reaching across the table to squeeze her clenched fist reassuringly. She relaxed; he wrapped his fingers around hers. "You want to go back to your house, we'll look into it. You want to start fresh somewhere, we'll look into that, too."
Permanence. The word rattled around her head. This was going to be the two of them, father and daughter, making a go of it on Earth. He was going to put down roots for her and hopefully help the world stop tipping on its axis.
"Can we look at that one first? The one where I used to live?" she asked.
"Definitely." He gave her fingers another squeeze before rooting around it the same pocket he'd pulled the pages from for a pen. He handed it to her. "Put a star next to the ones you want to look at."
"What about you? Don't you want to pick?"
John shrugged. "I'll pick from what you pick."
Ali pushed her tray to the side, bent her head over the papers, and started looking. "Price?"
While the thought was slightly terrifying, it was one thing he would be able to procrastinate on until he could get some professional – or semi-professional – help with. "I'll figure that out later." Which he quickly amended with, "Nothing a hundred thousand."
"None of those were in Jack's pay range, either." She went back to perusing the ads, pen in hand, and John wondered if she would look the same way bent over homework at their not-yet-found kitchen table.
Two weeks and six perused houses later, John was sorting through boxes of kitchen stuff that had come out of the storage unit the Air Force had gotten in Ali's name with all the boxes she hadn't been able to bring to Atlantis. Evan was rearranging the new living room furniture with help from Jamie Stackhouse and Danny Markham – David Parrish was supervising – and Ali was upstairs sorting things into upstairs rooms: her bedroom, John's bedroom, the tiny guest bedroom, and the bathroom she and John would share.
There was also a half bathroom downstairs, so John wasn't worried when it came to sharing counter space in the morning and Ali needed all the room she could get to do whatever it was teenage girls did with their hair and whatnot.
He inspected the edge of another plate, glad it had survived for as long as it had without any chips or breaks, and stood to put the whole stack of twelve in the cupboard. Why, exactly, his ex-wife had full service for twelve when the table would only hold six people uncomfortably rubbing elbows, was a mystery to him. Ali hadn't told him which cupboards used to hold what. John hadn't asked, either, and he figured it would make her smile if she had to figure out a new system of where everything was.
Ali's tea mug he left on the counter, figuring she was going to need a cup by the end of the day when it really sunk in they were not only in Colorado, but living together in a house.
There was a thud and some muffled chuckles – and curses – from the living room. John rolled his eyes, stuffed the newspaper back in the empty moving box, and went to see what kind of trouble his former XO and Marines had gotten into.
They'd somehow managed to wedge Danny Markham into the corner behind the couch where it now sat kiddy-corner. John had almost been suggested he just move the piece of furniture when he realized Lorne, Parrish, Stackhouse, and his daughter were sitting on it, prim and proper, looking like they didn't have a care in the world.
How they'd managed to get anything accomplished on Atlantis was beyond him.
"Colonel," Markham said, his tone almost pleading. Ali snickered.
"Everything all set upstairs, Ali?" John fought to keep a straight face.
"Right. Carry on, then," he said, turning and heading back for the kitchen
Danny's pleading, "Sir?" was drowned out by laughter, which only increased in pitch as John assumed Markham finally put his position and height to good use and began exacting good-natured retaliation. This was followed by more thuds, a scrape across the hardwood floor, and a yelp, and Ali tore through the kitchen to the back door like it was her job, closely followed by Jamie and Danny. They bounded through the back door and off the short porch into the yard. From the sound of it, she held them off for a minute or two, but then it was over, and she went down in a hail of shrieks and gust-busting laughter.
John took a minute to soak in the sound of it from where he sat at the kitchen table.
Lorne and Parrish followed more sedately, David carrying right on through to stand on the back porch. Until he decided he should even the odds, plunging into the fray with his own rebel yell as Evan sat down across from John and put his head in his hands.
"Maybe it's a good thing we never put them all on the same 'gate team," Evan muttered.
"Can you imagine the paperwork?" John chuckled; Lorne's eyes went wide and his head thunked against the table. "Apparently you can."
"The requisition forms," Lorne muttered. "It's bad enough when I had to fill them out for Cadman."
"She does go through a lot of C4." John unearthed a stack of bowls from another box and piled them away in a cupboard. He sidestepped slightly to the sink, looking through the window. Ali and Danny were sitting shoulder to shoulder while Jamie was giving some pointers on wrestling, using an unfortunate-looking David as his prop.
John tried not to think about what other skills his men had taught her during her tenure in Atlantis, and didn't want to contemplate what her answer would be should he ask her. And that was only accounting for the Americans. Who knows what the internationals had taught her.
"When does she start school?" Evan asked, unwrapping a set of glasses.
"Monday after next." John was still trying to figure out the logistics of getting her to and from school. Was she going to take the bus or was he going to drop her off? Would she come back to the house – alone – after school, or was there a way she could get taken to the Mountain and they would come home together. There were a lot of possibilities, some which made his skin crawl more than others, and he wondered, vaguely, if she would try out for cross country.
He turned his attention back to the window and watched his daughter worm out of a chokehold, and take down a man nearly twice her size in one fluid motion, finishing it with a knee to the sternum. Stackhouse, with his back on the ground and his eyes almost bugged out from having the wind knocked out of him, looked incredibly proud nonetheless.
John turned his back to the window and sent up a silent prayer she was an only child. "How's pizza for dinner for a thank you?"
Evan's face brightened. "I'll call while you round up the kids."
Sheppard opened the back door and swallowed the urge to yell something along the lines of Daniel Markham, you put your little brother down now and went instead with, "Leave your muddy shoes on the porch and getcha asses in here for dinner." He then moved rapidly out of the way of the oncoming stampeding horde.
John parked the beat-up Durango in the grocery store lot and glanced over at Ali. She'd been a little quiet since the boys had left after dinner, and he figured it would be a good idea to get her out of the house for a bit, even if it was to get groceries for the next few days so they wouldn't have to scramble for breakfast in the morning. O'Neill had done his best to get John some leave time to get Ali settled back into life on Earth, and while it wasn't the week they had been shooting for, it was four days worth of time for just him and his daughter, and he was going to make the most of it before he had to go back to whatever Cheyenne Mountain was planning to do with him, and Ali was bundled off to her junior year.
It was hard to believe that only a few weeks ago he was dancing the waltz with her at Harmony's grand birthday celebration. As far as he knew, The Dress was still folded in the box and the box was secreted away somewhere in her closet. The necklace he'd given her was on the dresser, something he'd noticed when he'd double-checked everything upstairs while she and the boys had been finishing the pizza downstairs.
The father-daughter duo entered the store, John snagging a shopping cart and blissfully grateful there weren't a whole lot of people in there to begin with. They figured it was easiest to start at one end and head for the other. Bagels for her from the bakery, along with a loaf of wheat bread. Crunchy peanut butter. Grape jelly and raspberry jam, which they eyed each other with equal looks of disdain over, not quite daring to comment on the other's preference. Coffee filters and dark roast coffee. English afternoon tea in the economy-sized box. Pasta and sauce. Chips, salsa, boxed macaroni and cheese. Cereal.
John was perusing the meat counter, wondering what the different between 90/10 and 80/20 really was, while watching Ali stuff her hands in her pockets, take them out, shift from foot to foot, and shove her hands in her pockets again. Fidgets. He hadn't seen her fidget this much before.
She jerked around, waiting for what he had to say.
"How about I meet you in the ice cream aisle."
A small, shy smile appeared. "Two pints?"
Oh yeah. She was definitely his daughter. "Yup. One of them has to be Cherry Garcia, though."
"No problem." She took off toward the freezer section with a spring in her step, and he grabbed a package of ground beef without thinking about it. Then froze when he saw how many different kinds of packaged chicken there were.
Vermont's finest was in a row freezer, meaning one had to dig for the flavor they wanted. She found a pint of Cherry Garcia – it seemed one of the most abundant flavors available – and she started digging for something that sounded relatively good to her. No Chubby Hubby or Chunky Monkey, but she set aside a pint of Phish Food for consideration.
"Ali? Ali Sheppard?"
Ali froze, straightening stiffly from where she was bent over searching through ice cream pints. The voice was vaguely familiar, and she turned, sizing up the girl about her age with ginger hair and blue eyes.
"Ali?" the girl said again.
"Kenzie?" Ali whispered. She dropped the pint of Cherry Garcia still in her left hand back in with the others, walking toward what appeared to be her best friend on shaky legs. "Kenzie?"
They met somewhere in the middle – by the Drumsticks – and Ali was on the receiving end of a rib-breaking hug as Kenzie continued to mutter her name among a litany of "it's really you" and "you're really here."
Kenzie held her at arms' length and eyed her crucially. "God, Ali, you look…you're here." Her eyes widened. "Did something happen? Did something happen with – "
"No," Ali said quickly. "Nothing happened to John. We – he – got reassigned back to a base here in Colorado." She pushed a stray piece of hair behind her ear for something to do.
"So you're back?" Kenzie said, smiling widely.
On Earth with half my heart missing a floating city built by a classified group of people known as the Ancients, then yes, I'm back. Ali ducked her head a little. "Yeah, I'm back. And yes, I'm coming back to school." She winced. "Though I think they're going to put me into calculus, instead of pre-calc."
Kenzie winced. "Seriously?"
"Kenzie, who are you talking to?"
Ali peered around a rapidly turning Kenzie to look at her mother. Mrs. Anderson came to a dead stop when she spotted Ali, hands tightening on the shopping cart in front of her.
"Alison," Mrs. Anderson said quietly, "you're back?"
Her eyes grew wide and slightly panicked. "Did – did something – "
"Everything alright, kiddo?" John had somehow materialized behind her with their own laden shopping cart, only the slight tension in his shoulders giving away his slouch was anything but casual. Ali stepped back toward her father, creating a little more distance between herself and her long-lost friend who had seemingly popped out of the woodwork, while Mrs. Anderson and Kenzie continued to stare rather openly at John.
"Yeah," Ali said when she could find her voice. "This is – John, meet Mrs. Anderson and her daughter, Kenzie. This is Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard. My dad."
John abandoned his safe haven behind the shopping cart, stepping around to extend his hand out to Mrs. Anderson. He handled – used to handle – first time meet and greets with alien cultures for a living, and could most likely handle one of his daughter's classmate's parents. "Nice to meet you."
Mrs. Anderson shook herself out of her stupor and shook the proffered hand. "You as well, Colonel."
"Just John," he said with a smile, sliding his arm around Ali's shoulders and tucking her close to his side. From the look of it, they both needed the contact.
"Welcome back to the States," Kenzie said, looking back toward her mother and missing the flinch from both Sheppards.
"Thank you," John said. He was a little more used to dealing with awkward situations, and Ali looked like she was floundering. He made more small talk with the mother while Ali and Kenzie looked at each other in a new light.
Twin sighs of relief were heard when the Andersons headed away from the ice cream and toward the checkout. Ali gave John a small smile and retreated to the ice cream once more, tossing the pint of Cherry Garcia into the cart without looking. She debated only a few minutes between Phish Food and Mud Pie, and went with the Phish Food. Like their jelly and jam discrepancy earlier, neither of them made the comment that was clearly rattling around begging to be let out.
"Friend of yours from school?" John asked as they hefted their cartload of groceries onto the conveyer belt.
"Yeah." Ali heaved the gallon of 1% milk out from the belly of the shopping cart. It was a compromise, since she drank skim and he was a 2% kind of guy. Two kinds of jam they could handle, but two kinds of milk probably wouldn't get drank fast enough to be cost-effective. "But I don't know what she's going to say when she asks about life because most of the stuff she'll want more details on will be classified."
"And there's not much you can do about that," John added.
"I talked a lot with Daniel about what I can say and what I can't, and how I can say it, but it's not going to make it easier for somebody to have to hear that they can't even listen to that part of my life because it's classified." She glanced at the teenager bagging their groceries. "Like, when you taught me to drive. And when Radek taught me about the wiring system in the Jeep." Ali had no idea where she was pulling her half-assed code from, but she hoped John was with it enough to mentally translate.
"Where exactly I taught you to drive is classified, but that I taught you and Radek helped you learn wiring isn't it." They awkwardly swapped places so he could settle up with the cashier while she piled bags back into the cart. "That you spent time learning practical applications of physics while in a sometimes hostile environment is slightly classified, but that Rodney taught you about local culture through their technology, and Teyla through her interactions with you isn't." He slipped his wallet back into his pocket, eyeing the mile-long receipt with coupons attached to the bottom with slight distrust. "Though we might want to keep a lid on who knows how much of a mixed-bag of self-defense lessons you've had." He paused, smiling wryly. "And that you can use a Swiss army knife like a champ."
Pink tinted her cheeks. "Yeah." She pushed the cart out toward the Durango. "Do you remember any of that?"
John saw no reason not to be honest with her. "Bits and pieces." He unlocked the car, popping the back hatch so they could empty the cart. "I'm still proud of you, though."
She smiled. "Speaking of driving…"
He pinned her with a stare. "Maybe."
"John…" She drew out his name into multiple syllables.
"I'll think about it." He shut the back hatch with a thump. "Maybe."
Ali threw her arms up in victory before she climbed into the passenger seat so they could head back to the house. House. Not home.
Atlantis was home. And as long as the Stargates were in use, there was always the possibility they might one day get back there. The house might become home in its own way, but it wasn't the same. She knew it, and she knew John knew it, too.
Maybe that was what was helping the pair of them keep it together so well.
John leaned against the support to the porch roof with his cup of coffee in hand, watching Ali wait by the mailbox for the hand signals from the driver to indicate she could cross the road. There was the probability that he was going to be late to work – or his first meeting, whichever it was that came first for the day – since he wasn't far removed from his pajamas. It might not have been her first day of school, but it was her first day of junior year after life had thrown a lot of changes toward in one right after another, and he waved back when she grinned at him through one of the bus windows, heedless of the other kids around her.
He hoped today was a good day for her. She needed it.
She hated high school. Not so much the academic side of things, especially since the powers that be were putting her into calculus as a junior, and had punted her into AP US History as well. She also had physics, and had been on track to take AP Language and Composition, so they stuffed her into that as well.
It was almost like she'd never left.
Those who had been in class with her had looked at her oddly, unsure whether she was really there or not, and hesitant to talk to her because the last they had heard of Ali Sheppard was that she had lost her mother and had been rapidly moved out by the Air Force to where her father was. Now she was back, which added to the mystery, along with the rumor she couldn't talk about where she'd been because it was classified. Which, in itself, opened thousands of possibilities, many of which Ali could or couldn't refute or confirm because, well, things were classified.
Kenzie seemed to have gotten over whatever funk she'd been in when she'd seen her and John shopping for groceries, and treated Ali like she hadn't left. Of course, Kenzie didn't complain nearly as much about her mother as she used to, and Ali was rather grateful for it, even if Kenzie tried to bring up her father in conversation more than was absolutely necessary. And if she thought it odd Ali referred to her own father by his first name, Kenzie didn't say it.
All in all it was shaping up to be a rather uninteresting first day back in the public school system, which Ali was extremely grateful for. She was figuring out what she needed for her afternoon periods when the back of her neck prickled. Angling her locker door a little wider allowed her to use the mirror glued in there by one of its former users to see who had decided it was a good idea to sneak up on her.
A boy. A large, burly, football boy if she was any judge of build.
Ali went about her business, closed her locker carefully, and spun around to find herself fenced in by three behemoths instead of one. The size didn't intimidate her, since she'd had the unfortunate happenstance to have stared down Ronon on the other side of a gym self-defense lesson on more than one occasion, and while she knew he wouldn't have hurt her, he wasn't about to make life easy for her when they went live.
Not to mention one disapproving look from Lorne, Stackhouse, Markham, or John was a hell of a lot scarier.
"Can I help you?" she asked, already realizing she was, for some, the new girl.
"Kinda pretty for a new girl," the middle one said with a leer.
Play nice in the sandbox, whispered the voice in her head. Surprisingly, it sounded an awful lot like Rodney. "Thanks. But I gotta go." She shrunk down a little, stepped to her right, and frowned when the human wall moved with her.
"Hey, now, what's the rush?" He stepped closer, threatening to invade her personal space. "We just wanna get to know you better."
"Now's not a good time, as I'm pretty sure I'm gonna be late to physics." She stepped right again, slinging her backpack squarely onto her shoulders to free up her hands. Where in hell was a teacher when one was actually needed?
"Oooh, she's a smart one."
She bit back the McKay-like snark rattling around in her mouth and smiled sweetly. "Yeah. Not too interested in football and I would…I would like to go to class. Will you please back up." She kept her voice low and even, eyes traveling to each boy.
"She's got brains, she's got spitfire," the middle one said, taking a large enough step forward that Ali took one back to get a little bit of breathing room. She was dimly aware there was a small crowd of onlookers, and her cheeks burned. The last thing she wanted was to be the center of attention.
"I'm not interested, gentlemen. Please move."
"Yeah, Kev, I think she's just the girl for you." The one closest to her, on the right, ran the backs of his fingers down her forearm. She moved the limb away from him, nearly whacking her elbow off the locker.
Ali took several deep breaths, ducked her head, turned her back, and was fully intent on walking away.
"Hey, wait, baby…"
A meaty hand reached out and wrapped itself around her other arm. The fingers of her right hand curled into fists.
"Let me go." It was a cross between a statement and a demand, but either way, if she was questioned later, she had at least asked. Fair warning, really.
The hand tightened; Ali went with the motion as the moron spun her around. Her first instinct was to bring the heel of her hand up and break his nose with one sharp motion, but Lorne had warned her that might cause more damage than she'd intended and should really only be used in emergency situations. So she went with her second instinct, which was a strong right hook followed immediately by a left uppercut with her suddenly free hand.
She flexed her fingers, minutely aware of the quiet descending in their section of hallway, and watched the moron on the floor bring his hands to his jaw, blood leaking from the corner of his mouth. Ali took a deep breath, closed her eyes, let the rest of her anger go, and whispered, "Coulda broke your nose." Louder, she said, "Next time when a lady says to let her go, let her go. Remember that no means no." Casually inspecting her knuckles, she stepped over the splayed legs and headed for her classroom, wondering how long it would be before this would catch up with her.
At no point did she really give in and wonder what John would think because, quite honestly, the idea of explaining this to her father was rather terrifying. She'd almost rather face a Wraith again.
Space was indeed at a premium in Cheyenne Mountain, and John found himself crammed in an office tinier than the one he'd had on Atlantis with Cam Mitchell, and Evan Lorne. Both men were grateful they were given office space, while Cam's expression was carefully neutral. Three chairs, two desks, and only one phone, which had proceeded to ring off the hook nearly all damn day. Usually it was for Cam, sometimes for Lorne, but around one in the afternoon John's luck ran out, and Cam was holding the handset out to him with a bemused expression.
"Sheppard," John answered, pushing his chair awkwardly into Cam's space so as not to stretch the phone cord beyond its limits. "What?"
Lorne perked up at the change in Sheppard's tone, inwardly wincing for the poor soul on the other end of the connection.
"Is she alright?"
Cam peeked around Sheppard to look at Lorne for explanation; Evan discreetly turned the creased three by five photograph leaning precariously against their shared inbox for Mitchell to see while mouthing the words, "His daughter." Cam flashed him a thumbs-up, and Evan returned the photograph to its original place. He wasn't sure if the ladybug picture would grace their desk, but what he'd really like was a framed copy of one of the photos Rodney took at Harmony's birthday party while father and daughter danced. That or one to "share" with John on their lone desk.
Sheppard leaned forward, testing the stretch of the phone cord. "Let me get this straight. My daughter, no more than what, hundred and forty pounds soaking wet, managed to knock the six-foot-two, two hundred pound starting quarterback on his ass in the middle of the hallway?"
Lorne winced; Cam's mouth dropped open, eyes automatically seeking Lorne for verification that something like that was even remotely possible. Evan knew it not only was possible, but if anybody could do it, it would be their very own Little Shep.
Self-defense lessons had seemed like a really good idea at the time.
At least no one had mentioned the idea of teaching her how to handle a gun. Though, the more Lorne gave the idea some room to grow, the more it seemed like a sensible thing, considering John probably had more than one service weapon with him.
The gun safe they moved into the downstairs hall closet made a hell of a lot more sense at the moment.
"Uh huh." John leaned back, crossing his legs at the ankles. He straightened. "She said she what?" He looked pointedly at Lorne, cupping a hand over the mouthpiece. "Apparently her first instinct was to break his nose."
Evan sheepishly rubbed his forehead. That was all his fault. He pointed to his chest with a muttered, "My bad."
"Yes, I'm still here," John said, returning to the person on the other end of the phone. "Yeah, I'll leave right now. Thanks. Bye." He handed the phone back to Cam and sat, stunned, in the chair for a moment. "My daughter beat up the school's starting quarterback." He had to fight to keep a straight face.
"There must be a little more to it than that, sir," Lorne suggested, holding firmly to his laughter.
"Oh, there is," Sheppard said as he stood, searching the mess on his and Lorne's desk for his car keys, which Cam finally held out to him. "But my kid flattened him in the middle of the hallway before she went on her merry way to physics." He took his keys, gave a half-assed wave to both Cam and Evan, and was out the door in seconds.
Mitchell waited long enough for John to be comfortably in an elevator somewhere heading up to the parking lot before asking, "Sheppard has a daughter?"
"Yup," Lorne drawled, already searching through the piles on his desk for the relevant files. It would make his explanations a lot easier.
"Only child?" Cam slid from his chair into John's, rolling across the little space to pick up the photograph on the edge of the desk and smooth it out. He guessed her facial structure was more from her mother, but her eyes were clearly inherited from her father.
"Technically, yes," Evan said, handing over three slightly overstuffed file folders. "But she's got four honorary brothers by the name of Stackhouse, Markham, Donahue, and Dex."
Cam flipped open the top folder, whistling lowly. He remembered the near explosion when this particular incident had come across Jackson's desk before O'Neill's. It hadn't been pretty.
Lorne had gone back to trying to bring some semblance of order to his and John's workspace when Cam looked up at him with a rather stunned, "Well, she is the Colonel's daughter, isn't she?"
Evan smiled broadly. "That she is, Mitchell. That she is."
He wasn't sure what he was expecting when he peeked into classroom 316, but Ali looked knee-deep in something fairly complicated in terms of homework, and she had her headphones in. John rapped his knuckles on the open door, turning his attention to the man in his thirties who sat behind the desk attacking helpless essays with red pen.
"You must be Mr. Sheppard," he said, straightening his tie as he rose from his chair. "I'm Kevin Kelly, part of the English department. I had Alison in class for her freshmen and sophomore years."
"John Sheppard," John said, shaking the proffered hand. He pushed the sleeves on his black pullover up to his elbows.
Ali took her earbuds out and a look at what her father was wearing, and winced. He must have been at the Mountain when the office called him because he was still in his boots and BDU pants, though the shirt with the SGC patches was replaced with a black pullover. She swore he had at least ten of those, as they had their own pile in their weekly laundry fiasco.
"Thanks for coming down," Kelly said, perching on the edge of his desk.
"The office told me I had to come get her," John said slowly, noting Ali was trying that tactic misbehaving Marines used to attempt in which they tried to sink through the floor. "She flattened the quarterback?"
She buried her head in her hands.
"The altercation occurred outside my classroom door and I witness the tail end of it when the young man grabbed her, and Ali used that momentum to give him a right roundhouse and a left uppercut."
"Hook," Ali said softly, blushing furiously when she had both her teacher and her father's scrutiny. "It was a right hook."
John leaned against the door frame with his arms over his chest. "Right hook and left uppercut. Classic boxing combination." It was difficult to keep the pride out of his voice. "But it's not nice to hit people, Alison."
"I know," she said softly, looking down at her calculus homework. She grabbed her eraser, having finally figured out where she'd made the initial mistake that had her answer not matching the one in the back of the book.
"How is the school handling this?" John was no stranger to sitting in detention, but he'd like to avoid vocalizing that fact of his high school career.
"She'll be serving a full day of in-school suspension tomorrow, and the discipline referral will go on file." Kelly glanced at Ali before focusing on the other Sheppard. "Patrick – the young man she punched – did apologize for not backing off when she asked him to."
John looked pointedly at Ali.
"I tried," she said, knowing what he was asking for. "But he wouldn't accept it and said it was his fault."
"Okay, kiddo." He fished the keys out of his pocket and held them out. "I'll meet you at the car."
She closed her papers in her calc book, dumped it into her bag, and was out the classroom door with a, "Thanks, Mr. Kelly," in record time. She wasn't sure she wanted to know what John was going to talk to him about. John was difficult to read on his good days, but in this situation he was downright indecipherable.
And they'd called him at work, too.
The Durango was pretty much the only vehicle in the visitors' parking lot, and she unlocked it, dumping her back in the back seat and climbing into the front to wait for him. It was the first day of the school year and she not only had a discipline referral to her name, but she was serving her first ever session of in-school suspension, John was probably totally pissed off at her, and she had calculus homework on the first day.
This was so much worse than the fallout from Rina. At least she'd had plenty of people to share the blame with when John had found out.
She whacked her elbow on the door handle when John appeared on the driver's side and climbed in. He took the keys she held out. They buckled without a word, Ali holding the fingers of one hand with the other and rubbing her thumb over her knuckles in hopes of calming herself down. John turned the radio off before they even turned out of the parking lot, heading for home instead of the Mountain.
Ali lasted all of five minutes in the tense silence before blurting, "I'm sorry." It was then followed closely by, "Are you mad?" and "Am I grounded?"
He made a so-so motion with his hand. "Eh, to the first one, and the decision is still out on the second one." John glanced over at her. "I heard one version from the office secretary, and another version from Kevin Kelly, and I'd like to hear your version."
She should have remembered this. John always waited for her version before making a decision in whether or not she'd be grounded- or restricted from 'gate travel – and she knew not to lie to him. It was something he didn't tolerate from anyone, and certainly not from his own daughter.
John listened to her side of it, asking a few little clarification questions here and there. She finished as they backed into the driveway. He shut the engine off and they sat there, seat belts undone.
"Let me see your hands, kiddo."
Ali extended both appendages toward him, biting her lip when he pressed and manipulated the swollen knuckles on her right hand.
"Scale of one to ten?"
"Three," she said, smiling slightly when he squeezed her fingers reassuringly. The left wasn't as bad as the right, though the moron – Patrick – had been falling away from her when she'd swung in with the left. "And that one doesn't hurt at all."
"There's a bag of peas in the freezer that should help." John continued to hold her left hand, wondering if he could convince her to take more piano lessons rather than contemplate getting a membership to a boxing gym. "Who taught you the combination?"
She nodded. "Yeah." Ali smiled. "He taught me how to ballroom dance, too."
Boxers needed some agility. And he'd heard rumors Donahue had boxed through boot camp for extra money. "Ah. I'd wondered who taught you that." Though his tone never really changed, his expression did. "No more fights, Alison Marie. Unless there's absolutely no choice and then yes, I want you to defend yourself. But that's only if there's no other option. Understood?"
"Okay." He leaned over and pressed a kiss to her forehead. "Homework before TV time, right?"
"Yup." She opened her door and went to retrieve her backpack. He tossed her to the key to the house as he went around to the passenger side and the glove box. She stood halfway between the car and the porch, watching him check the safety on his gun before sliding it into his thigh holster, barely beating him to the porch when he decided on an impromptu race.
Once inside, she made a beeline for the kitchen table to continue her homework, detouring to the stove to put the kettle on for a cup of tea. John came in a few minutes later, dug around in the freezer, and produced a bag of frozen peas which he tossed to her. He headed back toward the living room, presumably to change into civvies, and paused in the doorway, looking over his shoulder.
"Yeah, kiddo," he said, "you're grounded for a week."
It didn't come as a surprise. She smiled even, at the normality of it. "Okay, John." She sat at the kithen table, dug out of her calculus book, and tried to make heads or tails of her current problem while holding a bag of frozen peas to her swollen knuckles.
Evan Lorne had never been more sure of anything than he was in that moment, waiting in the main office for Ali to appear, and what he was sure of was that he was going to kiss what was left of his career goodbye for this stunt. It would be one thing if it panned out, but it would be totally another if it didn't, and he knew what John was going to be thinking. This was the kind of situation John Sheppard thrived on, and, well…
Ali came through the door and stopped dead. "Evan?" Her eyes widened. "Is…"
"He's fine," Evan said quickly, mentally kicking himself. "John's fine. But there's been an emergency at the Mountain and I'll explain everything on the way there." He prayed to God the trust Ali had in him – that both Sheppards had in him – would still be there when this was over. "So, we gotta go."
"Right." She went back the way she came, practically jogging to keep up with Evan's strides as they exited the high school and out to where Evan's beat up truck was idling by the curb. She slid in and buckled up.
Lorne filled her in on everything on their way to the Mountain. Including the latest idea to hijack a puddlejumper and go the aid of General O'Neill and Richard Woolsey who were currently being held hostage in Atlantis by replicators.
"Well," Ali said after a long moment of uncomfortable silence, "I'm going to be grounded for life. Dad just might shoot you." Before she could think on what she'd said in too much detail, she opened the door. Then shut it. She looked over at Lorne's stupefied expression. "We're going to need help of the Daniel Jackson kind."
"And hopefully I can keep my job," Lorne muttered, following Ali out of the truck and toward the security checkpoint, grinning stupidly when he realized she'd referred to John as "dad."
Daniel wasn't sure what he was expecting his late September afternoon to bring, but he was quite sure it hadn't entailed an Air Force major, a teenager, and three Marines. All of whom crowded into his office and shut the door quietly in their wake, lining up behind Ali like she was spear-heading the operation, even though she should, theoretically, still be in school.
"Daniel," she said, fidgeting only slightly, "I know what John and Elizabeth are planning to do. They're going to go rescue Jack, and that means they're going back to Atlantis." She looked him in the eye. "But before they find the means to do that, John is going to ask Evan to look after me, which he's going to agree to. Which means that he's going to go back to Pegasus and I'm going to be here in the Milky Way and there's going to be a whole mountain of red tape to get through in order to probably get me back to where I belong. Which is home. On Atlantis."
Jackson put his coffee cup on his desk so he wouldn't slop it on himself. She took that as a sign she should continue.
"I have no idea what the details were of Mom's will or anything like that, but it had to have been pretty binding in order for the Air Force to ship me to another galaxy to be with my dad. And if this goes we – if this works, what they're thinking about doing, then won't this just save a whole lot of time and aggravation? If I can just somehow go out there with them? Because I know the system, Daniel. I know that Caldwell thinks John's not a good parent, and I don't want to give the man any more cannon fodder than he already has." She winced. "He probably already has a lot."
Daniel held up a hand. "What exactly are you asking me to help you with?"
She took another deep, fortifying breath. "The current plan is to hijack a 'jumper and take that back to Atlantis."
He looked pointedly at the men lined up behind her. "Are you four out of your damn minds? You want to put a teenage stowaway on a hijacked puddlejumper and send her into a hostile situation with Replicators?"
Ali sank heavily into the chair in front of Daniel's desk, mindful of the books she was precariously sitting on. "It's either the puddlejumper or the Daedalus."
"Alison," Daniel said, abandoning his coffee and coming around the desk to kneel beside her. "I've read the will. I know what it says, and the short answer is that is John is stationed at Atlantis again - if we have an Atlantis posting again – then you'll be right out there with him. But I can't in good conscience, and neither can they, despite what you might be thinking, smuggle you onto a puddlejumper without your father knowing and send you into a situation that might not have a good outcome."
She knew it. Evan had explained the situation to her, and her mind had latched onto the first possible scenario she could come up with, it being she had to be on the puddlejumper when it left or get left behind. But John would never trust her or the men he worked with and had trusted with her life in the past, ever again, should she stowaway. It was what they had been trying to tell her as she'd practically run through the halls of Cheyenne Mountain.
"I can't put you on that puddlejumper," he said quietly, "but what I can do is make sure you have a space on the Daedalus. How fast can you pack a house?" He'd have a hell of a time dealing with red tape, but as she smiled widely and launched herself at him to hug him, he knew it was well worth it.
John's relief at being back in Atlantis was almost palpable. Even more so once they'd gotten everything back in order in time for the proverbial cavalry to show up. He tugged irritably at the collar of the tac vest he hadn't had the opportunity to take off, and let his mind wander back to the new normal his life had been for the past month and a half. No Wraith. No angry villagers shooting or running after them with pitch forks. His mornings had consisted of getting up, making sure Ali ate breakfast, verifying she did indeed get on the bus for school, and then heading for Cheyenne Mountain to either work with a sort of new personnel orientation or see if someone needed a fill-in for the day. Then it was driving from the Mountain back to the house, checking in with Ali about her day and her homework situation, cooking dinner, and relaxing in the living room with his daughter.
But there were no morning runs. No daily lunches together. No chances for her to broaden her horizons by interacting with the different cultures both through the Stargate and the peoples who made up the Atlantis expedition.
They'd both been uprooted from their home and forced to make a sort of new start in a place that felt more alien than Atlantis had ever been.
Worst of all, depending on what Lorne did and didn't tell her, she was probably thinking he'd all but abandoned her. He'd left on short notice, due to the secrecy of the operation they were undertaking, and it wasn't feasible for him to have taken her with him. It was too dangerous. And, hell, if she'd have known about it, she'd have probably thought hiding out in the puddlejumper would have been a good idea.
Which was why he'd double checked all holds before they'd even thought about leaving Earth. He honestly wouldn't put it past her. Or those three Marines that were a cross between an older brother and a crazy uncle to her.
He missed her. Atlantis missed her, too. So did Rodney, from the way he kept looking around whenever he saw John like he was hoping the littler Sheppard would appear, too.
But there were mountains of red tape to be slashed through, forms to be filled out and filed, and then there would probably be a fight with some agency about taking her out of school again. Maybe the power of the will wouldn't work this time, and he would have to make the choice between Atlantis and Ali. He knew which one he'd pick, but he clearly remembered how heartbroken she'd been when he'd told her they had to move back to Colorado.
Telling her she couldn't go back to Atlantis, which was home for the pair of them? It would suck more out of her than the Wraith could ever hope to get.
John tugged again on the neck of the tac vest as the last of the personnel was beamed down from the Daedalus. Lorne and the rest of the Marines would be coming on the next trip out, along with some of the scientists. It would take a while for everyone to come back, if they wanted to, or for new people to take their place.
Carson had already made himself at home again in his infirmary.
The noise level abruptly died.
He turned, hand going to his holster as he looked for the threat. What he found, instead, was a teenager with his own pair of hazel eyes, a beaten blue backpack, an Air Force Academy duffel filled to bursting, and two brown packing boxes standing in front of the Stargate from where the Daedalus had beamed them down.
Ali took a deep breath, and grinned. "Hi, John."
"Hey, kiddo." John relaxed for the first time in what felt like days, not bothering to fight his own lop-sided smile. "Welcome home."