for those who don't have the patience to forward to new but short chapters all the time :)



Beating Hearts



The mail, when it comes, is terse and plain. Nine words only, probably written or maybe dictated at great pains. John, I've had a heart attack. Please come. Dave.

Of course you need to go, Rodney says. I can do your paperwork for one more month, Major Lorne says. I will watch over your marines for you, Teyla says. Of course you may take your accumulated leave, Woolsey says. Go, Ronon says.

I can't believe you came, Dave says, when John sits down on the small stool beside the hospital bed. John feels uncomfortable getting stared at in his pristine uniform, but he had not felt like taking the chance that people at the hospital might not take him seriously.

You asked me to, John says, and before Dave can argue that Dave had asked him to come after Dad's first heart attack, too, he says, There are people who like me involved in the screening process now.

He's the one who stayed at home, took care of the family business, safe, and he's the one tied down in there now, he accuses the doctor later that night.

Do you want me to believe you've never been injured? the doctor asks.

Of course not, John grouses. But he was supposed to be safe.

Dave has not "been safe". He has worked too hard, has had far too much stress, slept too little, has simply given too much. So much so that even now, two months after the terrible merger went through, he still cannot sleep properly, still not let it go.

He needs time off, the doctor says. Real time off, get away from all this. Only I know him, the man says, leave him on a Caribbean island somewhere and he'll still be working. Lock him away with nothing to do and he will worry himself nuts.

A little stress might actually be good, the doctor adds. As long as it's a different kind of stress.

A place far away, no communication with Sheppard Industries, and enough excitement so he won't get bored, John says as they re-enter his brother's room. Dave, seemingly recognizing the tone in his voice even after all these years, stares up at him in wonderment. I can do that.



Not a chance, General Landry says. I'd like to help you, but I don't see how, Colonel Mitchell says. It's a top-secret base in another galaxy, not a sanitarium, Colonel Ellis says. Are you sure this is a good idea? Colonel Carter says. Convince me, General O'Neill says.

Business relations to the outside world can only help us, John tries. His people could step in where up until now you've used what someone one day might call government coercion.

He's given a lot of money to the president's re-election campaign, he adds.

Sheppard Industries has good PR, and one day you'll want to do some form of declassification, he insists.

I am owed this, he doesn't say, and he tries not to let it shine through too much while he argues, because this is not something he wants to screw up because of his "attitude problems".

I already promised, he nearly begs.

Woolsey might appreciate someone to listen to opera with, he almost quips.

He's my brother, he says, and while you couldn't care less on a personal level, he is my brother, and I'm convinced someone will want to take a look at his genes.

That might actually be a valid point, Colonel Carter injects.

It's completely unnecessary to grant him access to Atlantis to look at his blood, General Landry protests.

Hm, General O'Neill says.

What about the technology he would inevitably come across, Dr Lee asks. Could he handle the temptation to ignore the confidentiality agreements?

He'd know people would keep a very close eye on the business, John says. He'd consider himself honor bound, and what he's already built means too much to him, he wouldn't risk it.

He tries to breathe through the silence, until Colonel Carter volunteers a solution to the remaining problems. Would he actually need to be told all about Earth's security status?

Not necessarily, General Landry muses, relieved.

Appalled, Colonel Ellis asks, You're seriously considering this?

He understands the meaning of need-to-know basis, John claims.

What if Atlantis were to be attacked, Colonel Mitchell inserts.

He'd be evacuated along with the other non-essential civilians, John says.

And you would not be tempted to put his safety over everyone else's? General Landry asks.

It's never been a problem with Jeannie Miller, John offers. I don't know what more to tell you, he almost admits.

Okay, General O'Neill says.



He remembers he's supposed to make the call while they're eating lunch in a less crowded café under the roof of the hospital. Hi, Madison, John says into his tiny cell phone and ignores Dave's questioning frown from over the table. Guess who's back on home turf all on his lonesome?

I wish I had time to come see you guys, he tells her once she stops to take a breath between the questions. But, I'm under orders to gather intel about Curie, and can we please skip the 'infinitely improved' physics lecture mentioned in the fine print?

Rodney's niece, he whispers to Dave over tinny, excited squeals. Dave shrugs, bemused, but John feels unrepentant for the growing list of names with no faces connected to them. He listens intently as Madison dutifully reports the five mice and two birds Curie has eaten, and the one sparrow that Kaleb managed to rescue from her. While the tale progresses, his brother asks for, receives, and finishes another round of grape juice. The fingers curled around the glass still shake a bit too much for someone close to their debut through the Stargate.

Hi, no, nothing specific, John says eventually to a more mature-sounding voice on the other end. Took a few days of leave to see Dave, though you wouldn't know it from the amount of debriefs they put me through.

Rodney's fine, he assures before Jeannie can ask about the reunion of Sheppards. He and Radek are still waiting for your answers to the what-was-it-now, maybe you can send them to me before I go. To Sam, too, he adds, and then gets up because Dave doesn't need to hear him say He and Jennifer have actually started speaking somewhat civilly again, or what counts as 'civil' for them.

Teyla says 'hi', he says a moment later, watching his brother heave himself up from his chair and shuffle slowly to the men's room. There's a bunch of Polaroid pictures on their way to you right now, of her and Kanaan and Torren. The fragility evident in the movements scares him. Ronon and Amelia send their greetings, too, he ploughs on. Actually, I'm pretty sure the whole expedition would want to send messages to you, if they'd known I'd call you or if I'd asked.

How are you, Jeannie's voice interrupts, and John doesn't know what to say.



Sir, the airman at the entrance barks, looking bored as he waves them through. Who's the civilian? a marine John waves at calls as they pass him. Sign here, please, yet another Airman says as the U.S. military ensnares David in layer upon layer of red tape to ensure his silence.

Mister Sheppard, I'm General Landry, a man that reminds David of Uncle Howard says after a seemingly never-ending elevator ride. So this is where all the tax money goes, David mutters when he stops gaping long enough to form a coherent thought. This is nothing, son, the general huffs as he wanders off.

Doctor Carolyn Lam, a woman introduces herself while she sticks her hand out. The stethoscope around her neck remains about the only thing David recognizes as she proceeds to run him a 'thorough check-up', and he barely refrains from begging John not to abandon him. His brother stares at the different monitors with comprehension throughout, making David wonder exactly who spent more time around hospitals recently. When Dr Lam is finally satisfied, John promises to let 'Jennifer' stick one of those fancy little sticky-things on him, whatever that means, and then turns to David and asks, Hungry?

In the mess hall, John points out men like Colonel Ellis, He thinks I'm irresponsible, or Lieutenant Drewer, six months as one of mine. If he were feeling less out of his element, David would ask why two thirds of the people wouldn't cry if John caught the plague, while the rest might and perhaps do call him a hero.

A minute of your time, Colonel, a man introduced as Daniel Jackson murmurs before he drags John away, leaving David stranded for the whole of one minute before Samantha Carter slides into the seat he just abandoned. There's one more thing you need to sign, she says, and slides a blue form toward him that reads, extended Atlantis confidentiality agreement.

I will not tell on other people's personal lives, David's brain translates the form's convoluted juridical language. There's no space for General Landry's signature. David stares at the sheet for a long time, then signs in all three places with John's words in his ears, I don't care what Dad may or may not have told you about female officers, that woman is the best CO I ever had.

What do I get to know, he asks when John comes back followed by Daniel Jackson and Cameron Mitchell. Eight years ago, John begins, I went on an expedition to a place far away. Really, really far away.



Are you insane, Rodney writes. There is no way this can end well, it's going to be a disaster, and you'll be so utterly crushed I won't even be able to say 'I told you so'.

Do not mind Rodney, Teyla's mail reads, he valiantly led the search for a new bed for your guest room, and is looking forward to meeting your brother, as are we all.

He gonna run with us? Ronon asks.

I would be most interested in how you persuaded General Landry to consider your point of view, Woolsey writes, and John bets no-one here could recognize both the compliment and the tongue-in-cheek.

One more week, John sends back, Madison sends Torren a hug, because there are never words to thank Teyla for her Teylaness, Jennifer would probably have a fit; No way am I telling you all my secrets and, as if in afterthought, here's something for you to do in the meantime, have fun, along with the calculations Jeannie gave to him.

I think Wallace and Babbis are stalking me, he doesn't type because the databurst has been wrapped up by then, I'm being constantly reminded of why they're on the list of people never allowed to set foot on Atlantis. Instead, he tells Carter that evening, Never thought making sure Dave's Vice President won't get uppity while he's gone would be harder than striking a deal with the Genii.

I'm glad he survived, the mail he gets two days later reads, and John can hear Rodney's grudging tone as plain as if in audio. And I guess at least you'll try not to fly to your fiery death while he's here.

I've reviewed Dr Lam's files, and everyting seems in order, Jennifer announces, moving the last hurdle out of the way.

korndlduhtn,slfhwejwlfj4riiwl, Torren writes at the end of Teyla's account of a peaceful trade.

All but the most urgent reports are waiting at Midway, since I know you'll get bored there, Lorne remarks, and then, cryptically, Everything and everyone is fine. Mostly.

McKay nearly made Zelenka cry, Ronon elaborates. It's time you came back.



Oh, David says when he emerges on the other side, stopped short by the sight of even more marines holding weapons. John's Did it hurt? distracts him quickly enough, along with the insolent grin that makes John look five years old. Only the unlikely scenery and the armed, saluting witnesses curb David's urge to shove him.

I'm on a space station, he whispers, and beside him John motions the marines to draw back, lets him stumble down the ramp toward one of the windows alone. 1.5 million light years away from Earth, an unarmed man wearing science blue remarks. How many of those have people around, David wonders, peering wide-eyed at unfamiliar stars. John comes up behind him and shrugs. No idea, he says, and then, Ah-ah, Calvin, the database gives uninformed estimates.

My name's not Calvin, the scientist grumbles, You're in the same room as before.

Don't break him,, the look John throws at the leading marine before he jogs up to the control room, a jump in his steps, Look, Dave, look what I did, come, look.

You're not allowed up there, the man not called Calvin warns, and David nods, turning to the window again; he knows this.

How much larger than this is Atlantis, he asks when he has inspected one of the Gates and discovered every window there is in the gate room. We're under orders not to spoil it, Lieutenant Huber replies, and then echoes General Landry, this is nothing.

Let's find this room, John interrupts David running a hand over the second Gate. You look gray in the face again, is what he means, David knows, but is too high from Milky Way stars to tell the marines, I'm the older one.

I've got to read these, his brother says apologetically, holding up two USB sticks. David finds that he doesn't mind, exhaustion creeping up at him as soon as he sits down on the second cot. No stock market news, he thinks fleetingly as John fires up his laptop, but forgets it almost immediately because the ceiling in itself may look uninteresting, but it's on a space station.

Have they warned you about McKay, John murmurs just before David falls asleep, but only offers a grunt when David's yawned answer is, No.



There are no words David knows to describe the sight that greets him as the wormhole blinks out, only lights and colors with a hint of ocean.

Oh Lord, the major in attention nearest to the Stargate sighs at the sound of footsteps, then holds up a hand in a gesture that has six soldiers and two scientists get up and turn their backs on them. Hey, is all John manages to say to the figure hurrying down the stairs toward him.

Oh, David thinks, so overwhelmed by his surroundings that his brother being kissed by another man barely registers. There are pillars and balconies and a staircase, everything unlike anything he knows but beautiful, and he's never seen John let anyone hold him so tight.

Well, that was effective, John huffs after the man finally whispers, Hi. Oh, like you'd have had the guts to tell, the man says scornfully, sizing David up curiously, not stepping out of John's space. In front of everyone? John yelps, exasperated. Not like they notice, the man snorts, a wave of his hand dismissing the silent people. There's suppressed laughter on more than one face while they stare at the walls.

So Dave, John says at last with a red flush on his face, this is Dr. Rodney McKay. Rodney, my brother David. He looks more relaxed than David can remember, ever, a bit worried and embarrassed yet so happy.

Nice to meet you, David croaks a lot fainter than he'd like, and shakes the man's hand in front of two scientists who are sneaking looks. Likewise, Dr McKay says, and then, Sergeant Mehra's due back soon from PX3-494, we kinda need to clear the floor for her team.

Only a slight redness remains on John's cheeks when he clears his throat, causing the soldiers to twirl around and salute. Welcome back, Sir, the major smirks, stance less straight than Lieutenant Huber's at Midway, conveying more respect than the Airmen on Earth.

It's good to be back, Major Lorne, John says, gesturing for a marine to disappear three bags and one suitcase, let's go find Mr Woolsey. Everyone - David Sheppard, Dave - everyone.



The hallways are just as intriguing to behold as Mr Woolsey's office and the gate room, maybe even more so for the water running though the walls and the foreign - alien-looking plants. And while David might say that he has some sort of experience after going through a Stargate twice and having spent a night in space, the gradual introduction has really not prepared him for this onslaught of architecture.

And John walks through all this alienness, thousands of years old, he'd said back on Earth, looking proud and a little giddy and so self-assured, like he knows exactly what his place is in this maze of a city and and it's no longer alien, it has become a part if him.

Can you hear her? John asks in the same hushed tone of voice he'd pointed out a silvery orb at Midway. Huh? David non-anwers, distracted, not at all sure what John is talking about but trying to look everywhere at once, the spires outside, the balconies, the endless hallways.

Do you hear - what does all this look like to you? Dr McKay demands forcefully, impatient, but David can't find the words, is grateful for the dark look sent in the man's way by John. So it's latent, Dr McKay asserts cryptically, not perturbed by John at all, for some reason triumphant. The water looked different when we were still on Lantea, his brother interrupts, and David can barely take in the reality of what he sees, much less imagine how different it once might have been when John, John who went to Antarctica and then to space, first came here.

He has to stop, feeling winded at that thought, Seriously, how big is this place, overwhelmed and excited but fresh out of the hospital. He's your brother alright, just as disconnected to his limits as you are, Dr McKay accuses, and John huffs but takes David's arm, Okay, short cut. Square kilometers or miles, Dr McKay asks as they drag him through a narrow door, Still got that office in Manhattan? John jokes, and David thinks that if this crazy stuff ever gets declassified, he will be getting Sheppard Industries some new elevators.



I'm an alien, Torren tells Dave solemnly to his awkward And who might you be? It cracks John up that this seems to be the hardest thing to believe, a three year old half-seeking protection behind John's knee.

This, John declares as he hoists the boy up on his hip, is Torren John Emmagen. My bestest buddy in the whole universe ever, and an alien, just like he said.

Is that green stew I smell in there? Rodney asks, pushing his way into Teyla's quarters between them, that's green stew, right? It is indeed terat nur, Doctor McKay, Kanaan calls, and John feels a bit guilty to inflict even more weirdness on Dave right now, but, home-cooked food, oh thank God.

Welcome, David Sheppard, Teyla says, and oh, John had expected Rodney to be the one to sound guarded. Thankfully, Dave seems to read her tone as politeness, It is a great honor to meet you, Thank you for inviting me.

Yes, introductions, fine, can we get to the part where there's green stew? Rodney gripes, making Dave hide a face that'd be impolite. Say it, John almost says, and waits for it, but the look doesn't come.

We are glad that you have made this long journey in good health, Kanaan says, as he hands Rodney the dishes to serve. Thank you, Dave murmurs, and John cannot help but wonder how it would have been to introduce this little family to his father, what he'd think of the candle-lit room they're sitting in, how painstakingly polite he would have been.

And what is it you so, Dave tries after carefully tasting Kanaan's terat nur, making John wink at Torren, who winks back excitedly but doesn't understand the fun in Dave not excelling at smalltalk.

We have provided John our services as guides to this galaxy for many years, Teyla replies pleasantly, like it's John who's in charge of the expedition, not Elizabeth, not Carter, not Woolsey. He can't even get annoyed at Rodney's She tries to make sure he doesn't get himself killed.

That sounds important, Dave says, sounding both like he means it and like he's beginning to drown in the sea of hidden context.

You must tell us of your life without enemies, Kanaan says, dishing out second and third helpings. Dave looks up from his near-finished plate in alarm, and John bursts out laughing. The image sticks with him, and he can't stop laughing, though there's no contest, none. Sorry, he manages, wishing for an Ancient device to print out the picture of a Wraith in a suit and tie at one of Patrick Sheppard's dinner parties.



I've got to check in with Major Lorne, see how my guys are doing, John says the minute David comes out of the bathroom, and God, he's used to fighting jetlag all the time, how did he sleep through his brother getting breakfast and going for a run? You're not allowed to roam around on your own, he hears before John's out the door, this button's for Rodney, you don't wanna call him right now, this one's for Teyla, and this one's whichever marine is on guard.

What are you doing here, Rodney snaps, distracted, unfriendly, then ignores David completely in favor of whatever it is he's working on. David wishes he had opted to play with Torren, no matter how scary his mother, trying not to feel like an unwanted and dropped baton. You may wait for Colonel Sheppard here, a man with a slavic-sounding accent assures, but please do not touch anything, stay in this chair, just keep out of the way.

A Japanese woman angles her laptop so he can see what's on the screen, but David might have a way with maths, picked up at thing or two about programming, but this is a whole new language, quite possibly literally an alien language, and he has absolutely no idea what they're doing.

David Sheppard, a voice next to his ear rumbles, and it's not reassuring to see the first person in John's new life he actually recognizes behind him, remembers meeting in a place where he still knew how the world was built.

This is where you're consulting, David bites out weakly. Nah, I do most of that offworld, the man says, and David realizes with dawning horror that there's still blood on his sleeves. He tries to fight down the dread, and jumps, caught unawares when Rodney dumps a pot of tea in front of him, Oh, hey, big guy, you're back. So's Sheppard, Ronon observes in a bored tone, and Rodney, who outed John to David the minute they appeared in the gate room, blushes beet red.

Wanna check out the highest balcony, Rodney suggests, and they do, hopping through three transporters and slowly walking up the last staircase. Do you get the place yet, Ronon asks, and David can only cling to the railing, look out over the magnificence and not say I don't even know how to start.



You're not cleared to go offworld, so no trip to New New Athos, John apologizes, and is that disappointment he feels when Dave looks relieved? Why New New Athos, Dave asks, three days after eating dinner at the Emmagens'. Why'd O'Hara try to change the name during the merger, John explains without explanation, fighting an irrational surge of anger at the surprise that he actually knows what's going on back home. To lighten the mood, and to take Dave's thoughts from where they weren't supposed to go and because Jennifer said it would be okay, he suggests, Wanna come fly with me?

In what way is this aerodynamic? Dave ask dubiously, and John looks at Jumper Eight, remembering every trained pilot on base uttering the same question. It's about inner beauty, he quips, just you wait, and No, Major, I don't need a co-pilot, we'll be fine, thanks. You're clear to go, Lieutenant Petterson says, and John doesn't say a word the entire time as he takes them up, knowing that this sight is something that has to be appreciated in silence. Having Dave up here, seeing this, is too important for words.

If they'd attempted this on Earth, if he had taken Dave up in a chopper or one of the company jets, he couldn't have spent nearly as much time looking away from the controls, watching Dave's face. He doesn't really have to think about circling them over Atlantis slowly, spiraling around the towers, taking them up higher, and higher, and higher, leaving the atmosphere.

Dave's face is white, but it's not from exhaustion, not from motion-sickness and not from fear. He's alternating between windows, ignorant of the beauty of the Jumper doing its work but captivated by the stars around them. He hasn't been able to touch space like this, not even at Midway Station.

The words, when they finally come, are not what John is expecting. Distant, staring at a the planets outside, What's my guitar doing in your quarters? He's not conscious of telling the Jumper to halt, yet it does, and John looks unseeingly at the HUD. Because I had to have something, and Dave stares out into the blackness some more in reply. They stay up there in silence for a long time.



Team night! John declares after an afternoon spent with way too many reports, claps his hands together and ignores Rodney's complaints as he drags him along the corridor, happy that the gym is already cleared out. Your choices, Your Highness, he bows, sharing a smile with Rodney and Teyla when Torren decrees who is to fight with whom.

Like this, Kanaan says and slowly demonstrates to Dave how he likes to warm up; put in slow motion like this, it would look a bit like Tai Chi if the movements weren't completely different. Wanna show Dave your stopwatch? John asks Torren when his brother looks like he should stop before they even start. Camera's on, Ronon whispers, nodding toward a ceiling corner just as John really wishes he could take a picture of the two of them sitting next to each other on a bank.

Dave flinches as Teyla's bantos rod connects with Rodney's only inches from Rodney's face. Ha! Did you see that? Did you see that? Rodney crows, and Pay attention, Sheppard, Ronon warns, but wow, it's one of the hottest displays John has ever seen, and while he has mixed feelings about his brother seeing this, he would bet a Jumper that at least Kanaan is thinking the same thing.

Ow, he says when he lands flat on his back, too pleased to get up again straight away. How long was that? One minute, seventeen seconds, Dave announces, and John grins and lets Ronon haul him up.

Jesus, Dave shouts when Ronon grabs a rod, whirls, and brings it down, and John cranes his neck to look down at Torren. There's a bantos rod in his hand, smaller than his mother's and about half as thick as John's, and blocking the weapon stopped short millimeters from it quite well. You're getting old, he tells Ronon, he almost snuck up on you, and Ronon beams, making the little boy's determined glare shift into a delighted giggle.

Do you wish to try it? Teyla asks when she catches the look on Dave's face, and making John wince a bit at the unspoken He's three years old!. He shares a glance with Rodney and wonders if Dave will figure out that no-one was kidding about enemies, nods to Kanaan to please distract the Earthling when the shaken response is, No thank you, I'm fine.



When David is allowed out of the room again, there's a giant spaceship docked to the east pier. Perhaps Major Teldy will let you take a look at it, Kanaan says, but David is feeling too angry, too frustrated for any kind of adventure.

The Daedalus is never late for check-ins, someone had argued in the mess hall three days ago, and few minutes later Lieutenant Petterson's voice had sounded through the speakers, Colonel Sheppard to the gate room. Stay with Kanaan, John had ordered before he had taken off at a run, both Ronon and Teyla close at his heels.

There'd been a tension in the way the people had hurried through the corridors as David had made his way back to John's quarters, and he'd heard fragments of sentences, Lost, oh my God; No-one beats Hermiod; C'mon, it's Caldwell.

I am sorry, I can't give you more information at this point, Lieutenant Petterson had said, distracted. Mr Sheppard, I understand your concern, but you need to stay put, Mr Woolsey had insisted, strained. Sir, I cannot allow you outside, a marine guard at his door.

How do you stand this, he'd wanted to ask Kanaan, Kanaan whom he'd almost thrown out on the second day when the man, too, had refused to share any inside knowledge. And he cannot be sure, because suddenly heavy blinds had blacked out all the windows, but for a few hours it had felt like the city had flown.

Making his way to the infirmary now, he only picks up scattered pieces again, Straight into-- ; and then they were attacked by-- ; cut short whenever they see him getting within earshot because he's not anyone here, he's the lone civilian.

You will not speak to John now, Teyla says, voice dark, and David had planned to make his opinions known, to demand what is going on, but he got a glimpse of four bodies with sheets drawn over them before one of the nurses closed a heavy curtain. Oh God, he knows people here now, people who died while no-one would tell him anything, and his only consolation is that it's neither John, nor Teyla, nor Ronon, nor, heaven forbid, Rodney.

Okay, David says, gazing at John who has got a cut on his forehead and one arm in a sling, John who is pacing in front of where Rodney is sitting with his arm around a green- and yellow-bruised blonde scientist, and sits down and looks away when Ronon steps in front of them, blocking his view.



In the aftermath, John is whisked away into meetings in Mr Woolsey's office, into updates in the infirmary, into overseeing whatever the marines are doing to help repair the Daedalus. For all that he is free to go almost whereever he wants again, David barely sees him at all, and on the rare occasions they are in the same room, he is looking everywhere but at David's eyes.

Rodney is working just as much, but as it turns out, his brother's boyfriend is much easier to corner. Does he believe I think he should have done better? David demands when he manages to track him down on the second day. You know, Rodney says, pushing David into an empty office and closing the door, I have spent many hours contemplating which one of us is the worse big brother.

Your friend Teyla hates me, David mutters, blindsided by the accusation - they've been getting along for weeks, he wasn't expecting this now.

I broke off all contact with my sister when she got married, Rodney announces, and David looks up, wondering if this is supposed to be a challenge. I hurt her so bad, Rodney confesses, but she's told me that as mad as she was, she knew that if someone got sick or died, she could have called me. Which turned out not to be true, since I'd moved to another galaxy without saying a word, but, still, no matter how horrible I was to her, she still felt that if she had no other choice, she could call me.

John never came when Dad was sick, David points out, feeling a bit childish, and realizes a bit belatedly that he isn't actually all that angry about it anymore. Teyla doesn't trust you, Rodney counters, because when we were sure we were going to die during the first year, John didn't feel like he could call you.

Did we really fly, David says after a minute in a small voice, feeling about three inches tall. I know there's all sorts of red tape around telling me what happened, but - did we fly?

Yes, Rodney admits, then looks David in the eye and repeats it, Yes, smiling the triumphant, tired smile of a man who needs a good night's sleep but knows everyone is only back on New Lantea because the man he loves is a damn good pilot. Yes, we did.



This looks good, Jennifer says, examining the cut under the band-aid, an John has to curb the impulse to snort in a way that will make her reconsider a CAT-scan, because it's not as if a building fell on his face.

Your brother is stalking me, Rodney complains as he sits down next to Woolsey, I'm this close to introducing him to Hermiod, I'm that creeped out.

This section should take about two weeks, Radek says, cutting a long-winded diatribe short and ignoring the half-hearted splutter he receives for it, explaining to to John and Woolsey what he, Rodney and Novak have worked out.

And are you sure it is healthy to let them all sleep inside the ship, Woolsey wonders, staring after Novak, who is walking with a limp. I believe it is best to let them choose familiar surroundings if they wish it, Teyla suggests, and John doesn't add, I sure as hell wouldn't want to sleep outside Atlantis.

How's it feel, getting to reign supreme over my ship, Caldwell slurs, and John thinks it's a shame that the man will not remember his salute. I thought getting rescued from self-destructs was my specialty,he says feebly, and is gratified when something vaguely resembling a smile breaks through. Don't think that makes us even, the Colonel calls when John is almost at the door, and John turns, Oh, I would never, grinning at Major Lorne's muttered I knew the old bastard was keeping score.

I have explained to Stargate Command that there was no time for us to evacuate, a memo from Woolsey says, blinking in his inbox, and John sits down to stare at the letter he still has to write to Mrs Chestwick. This galaxy is bloody dangerous, and he brought Dave here, and the fact that it was the right thing to do at the time doesn't help, even if the Daedalus only lost three out of twenty-five crew members.

You alright, he asks Novak, glad to see that her bruises have faded to a faint yellow now. Yes, thank you, she replies, forcing the tight grip around her data pad to relax. It w-was g-good to have Dr McKay snipe at me again.

No, seriously, this is stupid, Rodney says, gathering up his tray and picking up a jacket, I'm gonna find Ronon. You two have fun. Dr Keller says all my readings look fine, Dave says after a long silence, and John doesn't think he's aware of the way he is stroking his left arm. You ever get to use your golf clubs?



Where'd you want it, Ronon asks when David lets him in, wiping his hands on the sides of his pants after hauling the grill onto John's quarters' rather generous balcony. I'll have them here around six, he promises, and David thanks him and wonders if he would be stretching his luck if he asked him to chop vegetables.

Yay, a grill party, Rodney exclaims when he finally joins them around seven, looking exhausted enough that David is willing to believe he didn't intend to sound sarcastic. This is such a relief, Rodney brightens quickly enough, I swear, I couldn't handle another vegetarian in-law. John's face turns beet red at this choice of words, and David's own feels hotter than strictly justified by the grill, but he doesn't attempt to deny how effortlessly the description fits.

Preferences, he demands, turning the steaks, anticipating John's medium rare and memorizing the others'. He only nods at Ronon's thoroughly done, but looks up at the silence that grips the balcony in its wake, surprised at the Lanteans staring at the man as if he'd just told them something as secret as the existence of Atlantis.

This is very good, Teyla decides after swallowing her first bite, handing a plate full of medium rare beef to her impatient son. Perhaps a few fewer spices, Kanaan offers, but before David can apologize for going overboard for the kid, John smacks the man in the back of the head, and the Torren's father sighs and sends David a good-natured smirk.

I don't get how you Americans can stand to drink that, Rodney says with his mouth full of salad, pointing a knuckle at the can of beer in David's hand, and David huffs, I'm actually allowed to drink alcohol as of today, I'll take what I can get. You want beer, I can get you beer, Ronon grouses and returns a few minutes later with something that looks almost too dark to be drinkable but tastes better than anything David ever got served on Earth.

I cannot eat anymore, Rodney whimpers, sagging sideways in his seat until John's body stops the descent, and Kanaan grins, You have slayed him, David Sheppard, he never says this. Anyone for a movie, John asks, but gets only negatives, I'd fall asleep in the first five minutes, I believe Torren will soon pass out.

Maybe you could play something, Teyla suggests, holding the battered guitar in her hands, and David looks up, startled, I'm out of practice. I haven't played in thirteen years, he doesn't say, instead picks up the guitar and passes it on to a wide-eyed John, But I could sing.



This does not mean you can go back to working twelve hours a day, Dr Keller warns as she signs Dave's bill of health. I won't have John suffering from a heart attack if you get sick again. Never fear, Doctor, Dave says, and John is surprised to see her blush, Unless O'Hara has lost us all our contracts, I plan to make him sweat.

This is like going back from Grandma's, Dave complains as he packs the last of his things, and John laughs and explains to Rodney, When we were kids, the tiny woods behind our grandparents' house was, like, our secret Wonderland.

It has been good to see you here, Teyla says while Dave still sways a bit from Ronon's back-slap, and smiles hugely as Dave gives Kanaan his email address. We'll be in Vancouver for Christmas, Rodney offers, extracting himself from an awkward hug, If you can imagine being around a ten-year old know-it-all and meet my sister, maybe you could join us there.

Bye, Torren waves, and John doesn't say it because he doesn't want to promise the kid something far in the future that he may not even be able to keep, but he thinks, One day, I'll take you to the house and show you the horses..

I'll be going back with you, Sir, Sergeant Mehra says, and Dave looks relieved even as she refuses to let him be a gentleman and take her backpack, not really thrilled to spend a night at Midway among soldiers he barely knows.

Mr Sheppard, are you all set then? Mr Woolsey asks, stepping down the stairs from his office to shake Dave's hand. They never did get to listen to that opera, John thinks, and the next time that runs through his head isn't nearly as unbelievable as it once was. All set, Dave confirms, and Sergeant Mehra turns toward the control room, Dial it up already, Petterson.

So, John says, and he is forty-two years old and a base military commander, but in this moment he feels little kid. So, you should drop by, next time you're on Earth, Dave insists, and they share a grin at how extraordinarily un-weird that sentence is. I'll have to let Major Lorne take his vacation first, John hedges as the wormhole establishes. Be safe, Dave implores, and waits for John's choked Yeah before he follows Sergeant Mehra through the Stargate.



Welcome back, Lieutenant Huber says, sets David up in the same room he'd shared with John on their journey to Pegasus, and then cheerfully lets Sergeant Mehra strip him of his life savings during a cut-throat game of poker.

Ah, the tourist, General Landry says when they step through on the Gate under Cheyenne Mountain, looking like he's not quite sure he finds David amusing or wants to throw him in jail for life for the things he's found out.

How was your journey, Dr Jackson asks, and David can't help but be grateful to the Sergeant for dragging him away, suspecting the man would like nothing more than to get him alone and question him for a few hours, to convert every reaction David has had during the last few weeks into an extended case file.

You're a sad little man, Thomlinson, Sergeant Mehra snaps at a man holding up the scanning of their luggage, trying to get David to talk about the 'Daedalus situation'. I doubt General Landry would appreciate the way you're breaching his clearance levels, she adds, lacking all of her fun-and-games attitude from just hours before, looking fierce and dangerous.

All done? a general David hasn't met before says when David has finished writing down everything the people on Atlantis have allowed him to see, Just so we're clear in what you're not allowed to talk about, if you could not give us a reason to remind you of how very extremely confidential all this is, that would be great. I give you my word, Sir, David repeats, and the man pockets the list and then actually grins, Get out of here, Sam wants to have lunch with you before you go.

Lieutenant Drewer will escort you home, Sergeant Mehra tells him as she detaches herself from her spot at the corridor wall, do you want to fly or take a car? Only if you take a car, it would make me really happy if I could catch a ride with you guys to Denver. This time around, David can pinpoint the soldiers who have loyalties toward John, spot the difference in the way they look at him.

Have you learned anything new about your brother, Mr Sheppard? Colonel Carter asks, and when David looks up, there's a twinkle in her eyes and a glint that betrays that she gets the magnitude behind the words when he says, lightly, A bit, yeah.



Sleep tight, Sir, Lieutnant Drewer calls as he eases the Mercedes out of the driveway. Someone has already sorted through the pile of letters when David comes in, so all there is to do is to take a walk down to the stables, murmur sweet nothings to seven affronted horses, and think about how weird it is to recognize star constellations again.

You look... wow, the doctor who treated David after the initial emergency response exclaims when David decides to just get the check-up over with immediately the next morning. He's not sure he'll find the time once he sets foot into his office again, and he wants to tell the man, Thank you for sparking this completely insane vacational idea in my brother.

About fifty people try to intercept him on the way to the elevator, and David's grateful he had the foresight to clear the whole afternoon for a meeting with just his Vice President and their respective secretaries. Welcome back, they all chorus, rising to their feet as he walks in, causing David to take one moment before the fun starts to savor being back where he belongs.

And that's about it, O'Hara ends after talking almost non-stop for about two hours, and David is surprised the man lets him see even the tiniest fragment of his relief when he sums up, Sounds like you all did pretty solid work. Where have you been, anyway? O'Hara asks as he gathers up his papers, we really tried to get your go-ahead on the Norfolk business during the third week, but there was no way to get hold of you, none.

There's a message from Kanaan near the end of the list when he checks his emails, I have failed to obtain a direct translation for miru te from the botanists, but the vegetable you call zucchini might be a satisfying substitute. He stares at it for a moment, then decides that if he's going to celebrate the hitch-less Norfolk contract tomorrow, he may as well freak out his staff by bringing them soup.

Your brother said to make sure to send you home early, Mrs Donovan calls from the doorway. David is not entirely sure she believes his I'm done for the day, I promise, but she returns to her desk when he makes a show of shutting off his computer, perhaps accepting that he just needs to re-acclimate himself to his office a bit.

Let's see if this thing works, he murmurs, taking a miniature representation of a planet not Saturn out of his briefcase. A children's toy, Sergeant Mehra had explained during the SGC customs, where it had shown none of the auburn glow it had flaunted when John had held it. For a second, nothing happens, and then the faint sound of an ocean fills the room, and David leans back in his chair and listens to the waves and his own heartbeat until the stars come out.