Chapter Three

It was a relief to be back home. Atlantis always maintained a comfortable 72 degrees. The team had caught a lift home in a jumper, had already had their post mission medical checks and now sat around the large conference room table waiting to give Mr. Woolsey their reports.

"Colonel, Teyla, did we manage a trade agreement with these people?"

Lorne nodded for Teyla to begin. She had done the work it was only fair that she be praised for her success. "We did Mr. Woolsey. Ardis is willing to give us one-third of his crops in exchange for Mylar reflective blankets. Their planet has two suns and can get quite hot. Colonel Lorne and Ronon used our blankets to cover the windows of the hut they offered us upon arriving. It reduced the temperature in the hut considerably. Colonel Lorne assured me that the blankets could be easily obtained."

"I'd say anywhere else in this galaxy twenty degrees wasn't much of a difference, but on M7B-349…like Teyla said, it made a considerable change."

"Thank you Dr. McKay for that insight. And to answer your question Teyla, the blankets are easy to get. In your report please include the number required and I'll get them shipped from Earth. Now what did you find at the ruins?"

"I have a list of four planets where the Ancients carried out the same experiment. We have a fifty percent chance of gaining two fully charged ZedPM's. Two of the planets, according to the data base from M7B-349 are uninhabited: G2X-444 and P8C-626. We need to schedule a mission there as soon as possible. Along with the other two inhabited planets: R9G-711 and M1R-098. I had Radek run them through the Atlantis data base during my post-mission check. He got the same information. We should check out all four planets and soon. I've downloaded the schematics to the recharging drawer. I'll be cross referencing the information to see if Atlantis has a drawer that we just haven't found. On M7B-349 it was concealed in a wall. If those two planets turn out to be unoccupied I'd like to remove one of the drawers and bring it here for further study. Who knows, maybe I can figure out a way to hook it up here."

"Colonel Lorne, please make the necessary arrangements. It seems odd that the Ancients would put a shielding system on five planets. What were the Ancients using the facility for?" Richard Woolsey inquired.

McKay typed a few more key-strokes before answering. "It appears they were conducting solar experiments. M7B-349 had two suns: that's a lot of solar power. I'd say the shield could be used to protect them from the heat as much as protect them from the Wraith. But since they've lived without for all these years, they seem to have acclimated well. Saving the ZedPM for just when the Wraith attack will use less power."

"What about the four planets we still need to investigate? Are the teams going to encounter the same heat as we did?" Colonel Lorne asked.

"No. From what information the Ancients left, the other four have single suns. One planetary facility has a high latitude which means more daylight hours. Another planet has an axial tilt which keeps it closets to the sun. What we call on Earth a summer solstice. Only on this planet it lasts much longer than just the summer. I found similar notations on the other two. It will take me a few days to read through their experiments to see if their research is viable. I'm guessing that whatever work they were doing they didn't want the Wraith to interrupt. But I'm more concerned that we check out these planets. And soon."

"I understand your impatience Doctor. Rest assured we will investigate. Having access to a ZPM recharging station is high priority."

oOo

David had some work he absolutely had to get done so he went to his office. Helping John put his photographs into the album was a look into John's past. A past he knew nothing about but wanted John to tell him about someday. Today was not that day. However, John did tell him who a few of the people were and why they were important to him. When David left John's room, John was finishing up putting the rest of his clothes in the dresser.

As David worked away on yet another two proposals a thought kept appearing in his head. He'd been thinking about it off and on over the last month. Checking the time, it was late, but not too late. John might still be awake so David gathered up his work. Heading for the stairs he noticed the TV and lights were on in the den meaning someone was in there. John must have decided that watching TV would keep him awake longer. Stepping into the den he saw John's feet up on the ottoman. "John I was wondering if you could look at these proposals for me." He said entering the den. His brother was sitting in a leather chair facing the TV. As David neared he got his answer why John hadn't responded to his query.

John's head was tilted back; eyes closed and mouth slightly ajar sound asleep. Shaking his head at the sight, David tossed the business proposals onto the ottoman then pulled a throw from the bookcase drawer and carefully laid it over his brother. John stirred a little but settled back down rather quickly, never waking up. David shut the TV off, dimmed the den's lighting and went to bed.

John was in his own bed when David woke early the next morning for work. He'd made it a practice to check in on him as he walked past. Claire had his breakfast waiting for him. When he finished David headed to his office to pack his briefcase. He couldn't find the proposals at first then remembered he was going to ask John about them.

Heading to the den he found the proposals where he'd left them, on the ottoman. Only now their outer jacket had writing on it. In bold lettering a 'NO' was written on one folder and a 'YES' was written on the other. David noted the names of the company's and realized that that's what he had thought too.

Arriving at work, "Louise, I need a consultant's fee check for $500 made out to John Sheppard. You can reference Western Technology's & Global-Assets for the first one and Birmingham Mfg. & Wallace and Sons for the second. Louise, I also need a cell phone for my brother. Set it up on an individual billing and have the bills mailed to the house. Have those ready to go by tonight."

"Of course, Mr. Sheppard. And the phone, any special features?"

"Just like mine but in black."

"Very good."

David couldn't help but think about the proposals and John. When John arrived a month ago he'd had asked 'what am I going to do?'. And David never answered that question. He'd thought about it off and on, but never answered his brother. How do you even answer a question like that to someone who is still somewhat of a stranger to you? John had been by to talk on three occasions. One of those was after the wake. Granted each visit was getting better. These last four weeks they did things as brothers, had fun but the talking was still in the safe topics: weather, therapy, sports, movies, dining out. Neither Sheppard liked to talk, but John had talked a little about his friends. Nothing was talked about long term yet, no expectations of the future.

David knew that John wanted nothing of the business, the house or the money. He'd signed whatever papers David set in front of him. But that was after their father's funeral when John was still in the Air Force. Circumstances were different now. Would John want to be involved in the business now? Would he be okay with consulting on a case-to-case basis? Would he find a different job elsewhere? Would he move out once his therapy was over? These were topics still taboo for general conversations with John.

It was nice, very nice having John living in the house. Seeing him each day and exchanging news about the company or his therapy sessions was just the beginning. Even their arguments and name calling during their shopping trip brought them back together as siblings.

David would just have to gauge John's response when he gave him his consulting fee check.

John entered the dining room wearing the tan chinos and light blue shirt he had purchased over the weekend. The right sleeve was turned up to mid-forearm giving that casual laidback look that John personified. The tan Prada dress boots completed his new civilian look. David was caught doing a double take. He was used to seeing his brother in black t-shirts and sweatpants. This look suited him well.

"What?"

David schooled his face and acted like nothing had changed. John could be overly critical with himself at times when trying new things. So instead David asked, "how was your session with Dr. Breslowe today?" This was a safer topic to begin conversation over dinner with.

"Fine. Tiring." John sat down across from his little brother at the table. "Do you remember me telling you about that woman who interrupted my first exam with Artie?"

"Yes, the one whose son's shoulder was dislocated, right?"

"That's them. Well Artie passed along an invitation. They want me to come watch their son's football game on Friday night. I guess he's doing rather well and hasn't had his shoulder ripped out since. What do you think?"

"I think you should go. Getting out and meeting people would be good for you."

"I get out…when I'm not dead tired on my feet that is. Anyway, after Artie gets done with me I'm lucky to find the back seat of the car. You know that." John paused for a moment. "I was kind of hoping you'd want to go with me. It's at Jefferson."

"Our Jefferson? Thomas Jefferson, that Jefferson." David squeaked out.

"Seems Frank, the kid I helped with blocking, well anyway, seems when Frank showed off his new move one of the coaches recognized it. All Frank could remember was my first name. Turns out the coach showed him my high school year book photo and well…the rest you know. So how about it? Go with me to the game Friday night? Could be fun."

"Sure, why not. Today's high schoolers are tomorrow's interns."

Claire brought in dessert to them, a beautiful apple pie ala mode. David surmised this was as good a time as any to present John with his consultation check. They'd had a good talk over dinner thus far. David slid the white envelope across the table to his brother.

John eyed David curiously. "What's this?"

"Your first consultation check."

"Consultation?" John opened it up removing the $500 check that was enclosed. "Five hundred dollars." David was shaking his head 'yes'. "I can't… I won't take your money Dave. I already told you that."

"Sure you can. And this is the 'company's' money, not mine. We pay $250 for each consult. You steered us twice in the right direction which over time will net millions for Sheppard Industries. You deserve it John fair and square."

John looked at the check then at his brother across from him then back to the check. His inner devil and angel had battled between refusal and acceptance. Acceptance won, "okay."

David smiled back. He'd planned to ask John about consulting more and maybe taking a job within the company, but his brother's reaction to the small check told him this wasn't the right time. He dipped into his pocket and pulled out the cell phone he promised to bring home sliding that across the table as well.

oOo

"Coles' team is checking out R9G-711. According to the data base this planet is inhabited and so is the one Miller's team is checking; M1R-098. I've scheduled Jacobs' team and mine to cover the two remaining uninhabited worlds: G2X-444 and P8C-626 respectively."

"Does each team have an ATA gene holder?"

"Yes they do. I've also explained to the best of my ability how to gain access should they find the Ancient doorway. McKay suggests that any team who finds the Ancient lab call back in. He has teams on stand-by and has given them precise instructions on what to do."

"Thank you Colonel. Let's schedule departure for tomorrow."

"Yes Sir."

Forty-eight hours later the four Atlantis teams were being praised for their hard work and perseverance. Coles' team, which was sent to make nice with the inhabitants found no such people. They found Ancient ruins about three miles from the gate. Dr. Millner, the teams ATA gene carrier, found and opened the door to the Ancient lab. As per McKay's instructions, Zelenka and two other scientists joined Cole retrieving a fully charged ZPM.

Miller's team found the inhabitants of their assigned world. Brokering a look at the ruins was all they could manage for the time being. Promises were made to return…for Dr. McKay to return and initiate the shield program.

Jacobs' planet was to be uninhabited but upon exiting the stargate they were greeted with suspicion. Turns out, this planet was being colonized by refugees from other worlds. Jacobs also made a promise to return with McKay to activate the shield program.

When McKay stepped on P8C-626, which was to be an unpopulated planet, he frowned. After Teyla brokered a deal, Lorne's team was led to the ruins where again Lorne had to think open real hard. It took McKay twice as long to set up the program because the villagers kept asking questions.

"One ZedPM is all we got. One." Rodney huffed out as he sat down spilling his coffee in the process.

"Look at it this way Doc; we could have ended up with none."

"Yes Colonel Glass-is-half-full you're right. But we really could use two more."

Evan leaned back in his chair to whisper, "at least he got the 'Colonel' part right this time."

Woolsey twisted his lips in acknowledgement, "Dr. McKay, what progress have you made in terms of recharging the ZPM's faster?" Woolsey queried.

"None yet. I have Zelenka testing the ZedPM that Coles' team brought back. I still have to go to G2X-444 and get their shield operational. I've already completed M1R-098. When Zelenka is done I'll have him start on the program. I have something else in mind for R9G-711. Since this is the only planet void of life, I want to rewire the DHD to keep squatters from going to that planet. It's the only one we can use to recharge a ZedPM. At least until I can figure out whether or not we can remove the drawer and install it here on Atlantis. And if I know you, as soon as one person steps foot on that planet, we'll have to give up the recharge program to initiate shields."

"Is that even possible?"

"For someone like me, yes. It'll just take time. And we should act fast if we're going to do this. There is one drawback. Small really. Hardly worth mentioning."

"If it's hardly worth mentioning McKay, why'd you mention it?"

"Because Colonel," McKay drew out his title. "While I'm reconfiguring the DHD, we won't be able to gate out, or for that matter, for anyone to gate in. We'll be completely cut off until I finish."

Teyla chimed in now. "For how long Rodney?"

"I've never done this before. It could be days, weeks maybe."

Woolsey pursed his lips in contemplation. "I want your proposal as soon as possible Doctor. I'll decide after I have a chance to study it… I don't like my people being out of contact. Excuse me, please." Woolsey tapped his ear and listened. "Have Col. Caldwell beam down, ask him to join us in the conference room. As you might guess, the Daedalus just arrived." Just then one of the doors opened. "Come in Colonel, excellent timing."

"Mr. Woolsey, Colonel." Lorne stood immediately as the senior officer entered. "I believe I have something that belongs to you Colonel Lorne. General O'Neill sent you some 'hardware'. If I may?" Woolsey gave his nod to proceed. Colonel Steven Caldwell positioned himself in front of Colonel Lorne doing the honor of pinning his 'eagles' onto his collar. "They look real nice on you Colonel. Congratulations. Teyla if you would."

"Would what, Colonel Caldwell?"

"It's customary to seal a promotion with a kiss for good luck. Some esoteric military thing, just give Lorne a quick peck on the cheek. I'm sure Kanaan would understand being tradition and all." McKay advised.

"I was not aware of this custom. Very well then. Colonel?" Teyla inclined her head seeking Lorne's permission.

Evan nodded and the kiss was rendered. "Thank you Teyla."

"You are welcome Colonel Lorne."

"Colonel Caldwell how long can the Daedalus stay? We find ourselves in your need." Woolsey led into the discussion regarding R9G-711.

oOo

The week flew by. Well as least for John it did. David came home early to change into more appropriate clothes for a high school football game. John was in his room changing too. At least that was what David thought. Knocking on the door to his brother's room got him no response. Opening the door and poking his head around found John in his boxers staring at his closet with one hand on his hip. The other held safely against his middle without a sling.

"John?"

John turned his head towards the sound. "I don't have anything to wear," he growled. Which wasn't true after last weeks twenty thousand dollar shopping spree. "Changed my mind, I'm not going." When John went to games it was in comfortable worn jeans, t-shirts or sweatshirts. Now he was being invited back to his alma mater by a well-to-do family. He didn't want to embarrass them, David or himself. Everything in his closet looked too GQ to wear to a high school football game.

"You're going, now stop acting like a spoiled brat." David chastised as he moved across the room to John's closet. He pulled out the black jeans, casual white shirt and the black Prada boots. Laying the items on the bed he told his brother to get dressed. "We leave in 15 minutes."

John looked at what his brother was wearing: blue jeans, collared shirt with coordinating sweater. It was similar to the clothes Dave picked out for him without the added sweater. John wanted to argue; David had sounded and acted just like his father. The urge to rebel was foremost on John's tongue. Instead he mumbled a quiet, "thanks" which David almost missed.

oOo

"John you came! Franco Jr. will be so pleased." Mrs. Dellifonté shouted. She was dressed in elegant black sweatpants with matching black jacket with red piping. She was adorned in a t-shirt in school colors; black and red with a booster button of her son's face. "John, I'd like you to meet my husband, Franco."

"Nice to meet you, Sir." John held out his hand.

Franco took it, "nice to finally meet you John. You're all Pattie and Franco Jr. seem to talk about lately. My wife was really embarrassed about barging in on your therapy session with Dr. Breslowe. She usually has more etiquette than that but I think seeing that Franco's arm had dislocated again, well she forgot her manners. So please accept my sincere apology. And thank you, by the way, for teaching my son how to block without getting hurt. I was afraid I'd have to pull him from the sport after so many injuries, but he loves football. I didn't want to be the father that broke his child's heart."

"It was my pleasure. Frank seemed like he loved the game as much as I do. Oh…speaking of manners; let me introduce you to my brother. David, this is Mr. and Mrs. Dellifonté."

David smiled at the couple. But Mrs. Dellifonté was first to speak. "David, I didn't know you had a brother. It's nice to see you again."

"Ah…you guys know each other?" If John's voice sounded like he was in shock, it was because he was.

"John you never said their last name. It was always 'the woman this' or 'Frank that'. Mr. Dellifonté is on the Board of Directors and Pattie here makes the most wonderful chocolate cake you ever sank your teeth in."

John was almost at a loss for words. "Then I hope one day I'll get to try it."

Somehow John ended up sitting between Franco Sr. and Pattie with David on the other side of Pattie. John felt like he was playing twenty questions instead of watching a football game. How'd you hurt your arm, turned into what branch of the service, how long had he stayed in, what aircraft had he flown, was he going to work at Sheppard Industries, did he have a girlfriend and a host of other questions. At half time David thought his brother looked a little cold although John would never admit it if he were. Slipping away David returned with drinks and a black football hoodie that zipped up the front for John. It was oversized and allowed David to put it over the arm already in its sling instead of having to remove the sling. The fall night Virginia evening air had turned cool.

Jefferson won by a hard earned two points in the final seconds of the game. The stands emptied leaving lingering parents to congratulate their son's. Frank Jr. was no exception. He rushed up the stands to his parents who praised him.

John saw Pattie whisper something into Frank Junior's ear and the kid's eyes lit up like Christmas morning. "You came!" He shouted and immediately left his parents side to make his way over to where John and David stood. Frank held out his hand, he really wanted to hug John but could tell that John's shoulder was still in a sling under the Viking hoodie. "Thank you Mr. Sheppard for coming to my game."

"You're welcome Frank, and its John, remember. You did great tonight. Especially that play in the third quarter. That's what won the game for you tonight. I told you, keeping your head up was the key. I'm really proud of you. Oh and Frank, this here is my brother David which you may or may not know already."

"We've met, nice to see you again Mr. Sheppard." Turning back to John, "do you think you could come next week? We play John Marshall for the city championship. We both have one loss."

Frank was all smiles and enthusiasm. "I'd like that very much. John Marshall was our adversary back when I played too. I wouldn't mind seeing them get beat. You are going to beat them right?"

"Oh yes Sir."

"Good. Then I'll see you next week." John ruffled Frank's hair as he bounded back to his parents. "You don't mind do you?" John asked Dave as an after thought.

"As long as I don't have to sit next to Pattie. I feel like I poured out my whole life story."

John started laughing, "then you should try sitting between them. When did she have time to talk to you?"

"Excuse me, John Sheppard?" A man about the same age as John asked. He was wearing Viking red and black. He'd been scanning the stands until he found Franco Jr. talking to a dark haired man.

"That would be me." John raised his good hand.

"I'm Coach Hudson. I coach the defensive line." Hudson stepped a little closer.

Hudson rang some bells for John but he was having trouble putting it in context. On Atlantis he had a Sergeant Hudson but wrong ethnic background. Then the light turned on. Coach Hudson had been holding out his hand and was about to pull it back when John grabbed it. "Sorry. You wouldn't happen to be Ernie Hudson would you? Ornery Ernie who played football for John Marshall who sacked me at least a dozen times in the championship game. Are you that Hudson?"

Coach Hudson looked amused. "One in the same I'm afraid. When Franco pulled that move in practice a few weeks back it had me thinking where I'd seen that before. Took me a few days to find you in the year book. And it was only three sacks. You didn't take over quarterbacking until the fourth quarter when Azzetti got hurt. I thought for sure Marshall was going to win then. Why you weren't the QB in the first place… Well, that's old news. I just wanted to give you my thanks. Frank is an excellent player. I'd hate to lose him. He's a lot like you were on the field if I remember correctly; he rallies the team together, puts in extra practice time, and helps the other players. I just thought you'd like know that. And good seeing you again Sheppard."

"Good seeing you too Ernie. Keep up the good work with the kids. I hope you'll cheer for Jefferson next week."

oOo

The Daedalus was in orbit around R9G-711 while McKay reworked the DHD down below surrounded by a team of Daedalus Marines. Not knowing how long this would take, it was agreed that Colonel Lorne should remain on Atlantis. Teyla also stayed; she didn't want to be away from her son for an undetermined amount of time.

Ronon opted to tag along, but no one knew why. It wasn't like McKay and Ronon had anything in common—well besides eating. Ronon made himself a nice little camp nestled at the base of a nyssa tree. He hunted to keep his skills in tact though the Daedalus mess hall was just an Asgard beam away. A couple of times McKay worked long into the night until Ronon made him quit. Feeding him stew he'd made from the days hunt before making him sleep. Ronon offered up the soft pallet of brush and leaves he'd originally made for himself when he set up camp days ago. After Rodney balked, like normal, complaining of how bad his back would be, he slept. Ronon kept watch over him.

It had already been over a week. McKay was now two days into his second week reconfiguring the DHD to only accept a dial in from Atlantis.

"Dr. McKay report."

"I'm working! Report that." His response was muffled to those around him on security duty.

There was a huff of impatience before Caldwell spoke again. "Doctor, we're picking up an unidentified ship on the outer reaches of our sensors. Its trajectory puts it coming our way. Now, how much longer?"

Rodney wiggled his way out from the inside guts of the DHD and sat up. "Why didn't you say that in the first place? I'm not military you know. We scientists speak in plain English or sometimes Czech." Not closing the connection with Caldwell, nor answering his question, Rodney yelled, "Ronon! Get your ass over here. Trouble."

"What is it?" Ronon's sharp eyes scanned the terrain. The four Daedalus' SO's tensed and scanned the tree lines as well.

"We need to go up to the Daedalus while I check their scans. They claim they got a ship heading this way. You! Marine guy, don't touch anything. I know exactly where everything is so I'll know if you move it. Well…aren't you going to beam us up? Hello, wasting valuable time here."

A white flash engulfed the two Lanteans depositing them on the bridge of the Daedalus.

"Bout time. You—move." McKay displaced the Daedalus tech then put the Daedalus' sensors through their paces and back again. The ship, and clearly it was a ship, was on the outer reaches of the long range sensors. Rodney got enough information to be concerned. His face was almost white.

For the last twenty minutes Ronon found a hole in the wall and watched. He watched McKay very closely so that when his teammate turned white as a phasma he was there nudging him. "Hey, you okay?" He whispered soft and low, so much out of character for a man of Ronon's size. Most people might think it impossible for a man like Ronon to speak so softly.

Rodney was thankful that Ronon was there. His presence made him feel not quite so alone here. He was also glad for Ronon's size too, which was currently blocking the crew's view of him while he pulled himself back together.

Whispering back, "yeah, but we're screwed."

Ronon's quick wit threw McKay off balance. "When are we not?"

"So true my behemoth friend, so true. Okay, now for the 'how screwed are we' speech." Rodney cleared his throat, took a few deep cleansing breaths while Ronon stepped back taking up his previous position as wall-flower. "Do you want the bad news or the bad news first?"

Caldwell didn't like the sound of that at all. "Just get on with it, Doctor."

"Okay, the bad news then. It's a ship. If it stays on its current course it will pass through this sector here." Rodney had pulled up a star chart and was pointing.

"What's that blinking planet there?" Caldwell asked from his command chair.

"That…that would be Atlantis."

"Alright so that was the bad news I take it."

"No, that was the bad news. The bad news is that the ship is Asuran and not alone. At my guess, with what systems I have to work with here, I'd say at least four or five ships are all headed towards Atlantis."

Caldwell was out of his chair and in McKay's space within two steps. "Are you sure?"

"Like I said, with the systems I have… Yes, I'm sure. You need to inform Atlantis, have Zelenka run a long range scan to confirm, but yes I'm sure."

"How long before they reach Atlantis?"

"Zelenka will have to tell you that. The Daedalus is not equipped with the right program and I don't have time to write it. I have a DHD to finish reconfiguring. That is going to take at least another 24 hours."

"Can you tell if they know we're here?"

"Again, I don't think so. They haven't made any course changes that I can detect. You really need to talk to somebody and get these systems upgraded. They're obsolete. Now beam us back down. Advise them that I should be ready for a test dial in sometime late tomorrow."

oOo

phasma = ghost is Latin. I'm using it as a Satedan word.

oOo

The championship game was just as nail biting as last weeks but Jefferson had gained the lead in the first quarter with two interceptions and never looked back. Coach Cotton came up into the stands after the game to talk and thank John. Seems not only had Frank Jr. been talking him up, but so had Coach Hudson.

The following week David had VIP tickets for the Theater Virginia which was the local community playhouse. David didn't tell John what play they were seeing for fear John would back out. Again, David picked out what John was to wear from his closet. Both men dressed in their black suits. During the drive to the theater David explained to John that three of his employees were in tonight's play: Roger from legal, Michael from maintenance and LeAnn from the mailroom. Parking ended up being a block away. As they neared the theater there was a line forming down the sidewalk. Since David held VIP tickets there was no need to stand in line. Walking up to the theater doors David flashed his tickets and they were allowed in. John followed his baby brother to their seats which turned out to be balcony box seating. Four spacious seats set in two rows. Each row had plenty of leg room. John didn't have to fear having his shoulder hit. At the door he was handed tonight's program.

Sitting down John took a look at the program in his hand. "Beauty and the Beast?" He exclaimed in minor shock.

"Yes. You'll love it. LeAnn, who sorts mail in our mailroom, has the lead role as Belle. Mike from building maintenance is Lumiere the candlestick guy and Roger from legal is one of the wolves in Act IV or V."

John had twenty minutes until curtain. He used that time to read through the list of actors, actresses and behind the scenes personnel seeing if he recognized any of the names from his school days. When he got to the back page where it listed all the local sponsors John was taken aback. There in black and white was his brother's company: Sheppard Industries, listed first as a major contributor. John was just about to ask his brother what he sponsored when the lights dimmed and the curtain rose. Maybe at intermission, John thought.

It wasn't until the drive home that John got his chance to ask the plaguing question he'd had all evening. At intermission David was introducing John to several people. Most were employees of Sheppard Industries, but there were a few business acquaintances too. David knew their names including their spouses. One family brought their kids and to John's surprise his brother greeted them by their names as well.

This whole night was a lot for John to process. John remembered back when his scout troop was selling popcorn to raise money and his father turned him down. "I don't like popcorn so why would I buy it?" He father told him. Anthony's father couldn't have popcorn due to some medical condition, but that didn't stop Anthony's dad from buying a whole case from his son. The second time John wanted his fathers help was in junior high school. He asked his father to buy new baseball equipment for the school. John also told his dad that the school would put up a banner on the outfield fence with his company's name on it. John had hoped that would be enough incentive to loosen the purse strings his father held tightly. Of course his father told him no without even trying to come up with a reason why. After that John never asked his father for anything.

"I had a real good time tonight." John started the conversation with.

"I'm glad. I was worried that you wouldn't like it since it was more a kid's play."

"If you had looked around, you would have seen there were more adults than kid's there tonight. So what did your company sponsor? I saw your name on the back of the program."

"Sponsor? Oh…the playhouse needed money so they could build sets, pay utilities…that sort of stuff. The company donates 100 thousand dollars a year."

A 100K a year? Dad would never have gone for that. Dad wouldn't even buy popcorn from his own son. "Ah…how long have you been doing this?" John wondered out loud.

"Three years now I think." David answered without reservation. "I'm glad you enjoyed yourself. SI also makes a donation to the Richmond Symphony so if you ever want to go just let me know. I'll get us tickets." David began chuckling to himself.

"What's so funny?"

David did his best to compose himself. "I had a hard enough time just getting you to pick out a suit. A picture of you buying a tux just flashed through my mind."

"Are we home yet?" John whined before turning to his brother with a wide grin only to see his brother grinning back just as wide.

oOo

Through trial and error it took McKay three additional days before he had the DHD working to accept only dial-ins from Atlantis. The Daedalus kept close watch on the Asuran ships, while Ronon Dex kept close watch over his teammate. When McKay was ready to test the gate, Lorne deployed six other gate teams plus had the Alpha site dial R9G-711 at pre-arranged times; each confirmed no lock on the gate.

One issue was resolved, millions to go.

Lorne requested that McKay return on the Daedalus which was just asinine since he finished working on the gate and could just dial out. But Lorne knew the minute McKay got back to Atlantis; he'd start in on another project. McKay needed to rest and the flight home was a perfect solution. Caldwell used some lame excuse about a broken control board that needed fixed. McKay had it repaired in under five minutes but since they had already jumped into hyper space, McKay was stuck on board.

Ronon saw to it that McKay slept the whole ten hour flight back.

According to the Czech the Asuran armada would reach them in four to five months. After calculating the distance and time it appeared the Asuran fleet did not have the use of ZPM's to power their ships. Had the Daedalus not been orbiting R9G-711 they may not have had the time needed to work out a plan. Long range sensor sweeps took a lot of ZPM power. Power the city couldn't afford to lose on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Long range sensors were only used when a known threat was in a known sector of space. Hopefully that wouldn't be the case soon.

Planning had been the name of the game since the Asuran ships had been detected. With only one fully charged ZPM it was now up to McKay and Zelenka to find a way to speed the recharging process from five thousand years to days or weeks. Preferably days. One ZPM was no match for even one Aurora class Ancient Replicator ship. With a confirmed seven ships on the way a briefing was called to discuss alternate plans.

Several conversations were going on around the large conference room simultaneously. They actually had been at it for several hours now. Words overlapped, questions were tossed out, ideas shot down, laptops were fought over, all for the sake of coming up with a plausible, workable plan to save Atlantis.

The Daedalus had headed back to Earth. Its six week turn-around would bring them more supplies in case they had to evacuate. The large ship would have one more opportunity to supply Atlantis with what it needed before the Asuran ships appeared. By that time, hopefully the SGC would send the Apollo and the Odyssey if she were found, to Pegasus to help.

Lorne removed himself by setting back in his chair scanning each face and picking up on what that single person was saying at the time. A mentor once told him to listen—of course, the mentor meant McKay, but that advice held true now. In this room, to this group of people assembled here, the smartest of the smart, he listened. When Evan made a complete circle of the conference room table he spoke. "Why here?"

His soft, mellow tone was a shock to all the loud voices talking non-stop. "Pardon me?" Woolsey replied.

"Why here? Why this sector of space? Are they just passing through to somewhere else?"

The brainstorming session came to a complete halt; the room went quiet giving individual contemplation over the Colonel's simple question.

"I already thought of that. There is nothing of interest beyond Atlantis. I checked the data base for planets that might contain neutronium; you know the basic building material for Replicators, there are none. That leaves us as their point of interest." Rodney contributed.

"You're asking how did they find out we are here and not on Lantea?" Mr. Woolsey rephrased for clarity. Though he was looking at his Second-in-Command, one of the scientists offered up.

"Dr. Weir."

"No…no…no." Rodney shook his head in disagreement. "We changed the planet after Elizabeth was taken." McKay corrected. "This world was never on the list of planets we considered. Elizabeth couldn't possibly have known about this one."

"Not that Elizabeth, but the Replicator Elizabeth. She found us. So did the others. They used that Replicator machine to make bodies for themselves. What if…what if after they went through to the space gate one of them managed to send out a distress beacon or a message of some kind to their friends with our coordinates?"

For the second time in only minutes the room was stunned back into silence.

Colonel Lorne was the first to break the eerie silence. Leaning forward in his chair he rested his arms on the table, "Is that even possible? They stepped through the stargate into vacuum space."

All attention was directed on McKay, Zelenka and the other participating scientists waiting for the answer.

"Elizabeth did say they integrated with several types of technology while floating around in sub-space… Niam didn't freeze right away when we jettison him from the back of the jumper. So it could…no…no…if a signal was sent it would have had to be a sharp, compressed, single burst. No longer than a few seconds at best. Being such a short time frame I doubt that even a Replicator could have acted that fast in the vacuum of space to send out our gate address…"

Radek took a chance and spoke up a second time. "It wouldn't have had to be our address. Just the general area of space we're in."

"Could they be homing in on Atlantis' energy signal?" Lorne tossed out in the mix of all things going from bad to worse.

"I need time…we need time." Rodney waved his finger back and forth between Radek and himself. "As if I don't already have enough to do, you toss out the idea of a homing signal. Okay, everyone go away now. Let Zelenka and I figure this out." Rodney made a shooing motion with his hands. Radek was already typing away on is laptop leaning in to share bits of information with McKay. The two men were clueless as to their surroundings.

Zelenka was checking energy signals, communication bursts in sub-space and anything else he could think of back when Replicator Elizabeth and her band had invaded Atlantis's systems.

Rodney's head snapped up and found the room still full of people, which surprised him and yet it didn't. Snapping his fingers, "Lorne I need you to take a jumper through to Space Gate 253. Take Jumper One. I've just uploaded a scanning program you'll need. I need those results like five minutes ago. Why are you still sitting there?"

"What's so special about SG-253?"

Rodney's face froze in an instant. Thinking about Elizabeth floating in space like a chunk of ice made him go sick and pale. But thinking that Elizabeth might have betrayed them was worse. He had wanted to believe it was Elizabeth from the start. Then he wouldn't feel so bad about initiating the nanites to save her life. Rodney felt the brunt of his decision everyday. He tried to respond to Lorne's question but nothing came out. His lips moved, he could feel that, but no sound. He watched as Mr. Woolsey leaned closer to Lorne whispering into to his ear what Rodney couldn't force his lips to say.

"I… With your permission, Sir I'll take Jacobs' team with me. We'll be back with those scans as soon as possible."

"Permission granted Colonel."

oOo

John continued his daily three hour long sessions with Artie. His left shoulder was showing some improvement while the pain was receding some and not as overpowering all the time. Jerry continued to pick him up since he was too exhausted to drive himself home afterwards. There were days when he found himself lying in bed thinking about his current situation while the meds did their stuff.

Another few weeks passed by unnoticed and Thanksgiving was just around the corner. The Virginia weather took a steady dip into cool. It was finally time to break out the warmer jackets.

John's PT was still on track. Dr. Breslowe's three solid months of therapy, every single day, had been worth it. John was getting the use of his left shoulder back. But the best news was that the pain of moving his shoulder had mostly abated. He still needed to wear the sling as a precautionary measure; however, Artie promised there'd be the day he could stop. But John wasn't there yet.

"John do you have a few minutes to look these over?" David said coming into the den.

John was flipping back and forth between two football games. "Sure what is it?"

David handed over the four proposals to his brother. "More business proposals, what else. Seems this time of year more and more companies are seeking financial help. I have four for you to look at."

While David was talking, John opened the first proposal to their financial page. A minute on this page he was handing it back to his brother. "No on this one." Opening the next John spent about the same amount of time, a minute, before handing it back. "Maybe." The third and fourth followed the same quick scrutiny of John's eyes and his number oriented mind. "Okay, the 'maybe' is now a yes, but you'll have to anti-up a good chunk of capital. The third one is a yes and no on the last. Anything else? The games coming back on."

"How…" David began saying taking in the questioning look of his brother. "How do you do that so quickly? I pay a whole department of people to do what you just did in a matter of minutes and it takes them days if not weeks. And some of them still get it wrong."

"You know I've always been good with numbers. Their financial page tells me all I need to know. It's all in the numbers. Numbers don't lie unless someone wants them too. Do you want to watch the game with me? I made popcorn."

David stood there speechless. "John can we talk for a minute? A serious talk."

John turned the tube off and gave his brother his full attention. David eased himself into a nearby chair. "I don't know how you feel about being back here, living here in this house again, because Sheppard's just don't discuss that kind of stuff. What I do know is that for me, it's been great having you here. I've gotten to know my older brother again. And I like that. I like that very much."

"I like being here too. At first I wasn't so sure. But then after a few days I realized you were really trying this time. Not making any demands."

David's facial expression was one of comprehension. He had put forth an effort this time and knowing that John acknowledged it by staying was more than he could have hoped for. "Remember when you first got here you asked me 'what am I going to do now, Dave?'"

"Yeah. I remember. Not one of my more prouder moments, I must say. Having no career, no friends, and no home all within a matter of a few days I was pretty much in a daze. Coming here felt like I was crawling back home on my hands and knees begging to be forgiven."

"It wasn't like that at all. At least I didn't think of it like that. Anyway, I never answered you. I changed the subject if you recall, but I've given it a lot of thought. You and I…we're getting along pretty well don't you think?"

"Sure."

"What I was thinking was… I'd like you to come work for me." David held his hand up stopping John's automatic response mechanism. "Hear me out before you say anything. My company could really benefit from having someone with your talent and mastery of numbers. What you do with these business proposals is a great asset to the company. I know you want nothing to do with Dad's company, but it's not his company any longer. It's mine now."

"Dave."

"I'm not finished. Listen, why don't you come to the office with me one day and have a look around..."

"Dave."

"…I could set you up an office. You could work part time; choose your own hours…"

"David!" John shouted, drawing his brother from his dream tunnel vision. "I… I already turned down a desk job with the Air Force, remember? At the Pentagon for God's sake. If I wanted to shuffle papers all day I would have stayed in the Air Force and taken General O'Neill up on his offer. But I'm not cut out to be a paper jockey. I don't mind helping you out, but I don't think it's what I want to do for the rest of my life. Besides, Coach Cotton asked if I'd be interested in a coaching position at Jefferson. I told him I'd think about it." John saw the look of disappointment flash across his younger brother's face. So he added, "I just don't know what it is that I want to do. Right now I can't do much of anything until my shoulder is fixed. I'm putting all my concentration into my rehab right now. Can we just leave things the way they are."

"Sure. I'm sorry for bringing it up." David straightened the folders in his hand and rose. Without a backwards glance he left John to his football.

John saw the mental anguish and heartbreak that his refusal caused his brother. Dave was already at the door when John called out, "Dave…don't be…" But the door slammed shut before he could finish. His fisted hand came down hard on the leather arm. Tossing his head back, "way to go John! You really screwed things up now."

oOo

Rodney rushed into Woolsey's office. He'd run from his lab all the way to gate operations. Gasping out, "we have to purge Atlantis."

"I beg your pardon, did you say purge?"

"Yes."

Woolsey knew how large the Ancient data base was. They'd only been able to mine about one-third of it in six years. "Is this something that can be done rather easily?"

"Yes." "No."

Woolsey stood up from his desk eyeing Dr. Zelenka who stood a short distance behind Dr. McKay out of sight until he stood. "You don't agree?"

"Radek is being…"

"I am not. You know I am right. This cannot be done the way you want. It will take time and can only be done with…"

"No…no…no…it can be done. We just have to shut down all the systems in the right order."

Woolsey tried to pick up what the two scientists were arguing over, but it was difficult. "Gentleman! Please. Take a seat." Woolsey pointed to the lounge area chairs. Tapping his comm link, "Colonel Lorne report to my office immediately please."

Moments later Lorne was standing at the office door. "Sir."

"Come in Colonel, have a seat, seems we have a difference of opinion on how to handle our latest emergency."

"What emergency would that be? I'm dealing with several right now."

"Replicator ships…ring any bells?" Rodney sniped.

"I thought the Asuran ships were not scheduled to arrive for another three to four months."

"Dr. McKay, start from the beginning please. You'll get your chance Dr. Zelenka I promise." Richard Woolsey stated firmly.

All eyes turned to McKay. "Radek and I have been going over everything. And I mean everything: energy signatures, communications, sub-space anomalies, including the data you brought back from Space Gate 253. We found nothing out of the ordinary; nothing capable of drawing attention to us from the Replicators."

"That's good right?"

"No Colonel, not good. Just the opposite, real bad. Means someone else or something else gave our position away."

"Well, I've contacted the Travelers; Larrin assures me it wasn't any of them. I spoke to our prisoner again and had Dr. Keller do an in depth scan checking for more hidden transmitters. But Todd claims he's too weak to be broadcasting a signal. And I believe him. He'd broadcast to the Wraith and not the Replicators anyway. I've got teams out checking in with our trading partners but so far nothing. We still have a few more to check out."

"That Replicator armada is still on course for this sector of space. It just proves that something else is the cause. We've eliminated all outside sources in the last two weeks so that's something. I…" Radek cleared his throat just then. "…we turned our investigation from sub-space to focus on Atlantis. Your idea actually, Colonel. I found hidden in an obscure sub-sub-routine nanites. Replicator nanites. Seems when Replicator Elizabeth and her band of ascension wannabees invaded Atlantis' systems they left behind a few of their nanite friends. So we have to purge Atlantis' operating system including all Earth based systems."

"These nanites that are in the computer are what the Replicator ships are homing in on?"

"Yes."

"Huh, I got one right. So now you can purge this sub-sub-routine and they'll stop broadcasting our location, right."

"Not exactly. It's not that simple. You have to remember these nanites are mini-machines capable of moving from one system to another. If I were to focus on that one area, they'd just move to another. It'd be like playing 'follow the leader'. No, we have to purge everything. That's the only way to guarantee success."

Radek spoke up at this point. "I tell Rodney that Atlantis is not just some computer you can defrag. She is a sentient being."

"So how do you expect to proceed? We have just a little over three months before they get here." Richard Woolsey inquired.

"Which is good because we'll need every second of that according to my…our calculations. Defragging Atlantis's systems will take approximately that long to complete."

"Three months!" Woolsey and Lorne exclaimed at the same time.

"You have to realize that the city's operating system is massive. Gargantuan compared to ours. We need to start now if we want to finish before they get here. Then we need to move Atlantis to a new planet."

"Move?"

"Well yes, in three months time the Replicator ships will be too close. If…" Rodney corrected himself. "…when we manage to wipe the nanites it will be a bit obvious what we've done. They'll still search for us and eventually locate us. They'd be able to detect our cloak and our shield would not hold up under seven ships bombarding us. With one full ZedPM and the other at 67 percent we are sitting ducks if we stay. We need not to be here. We need to be elsewhere. Radek will continue to work on the recharging program. I will assist with the purging…"

Colonel Lorne held up his hand to stop McKay. "How? If I understand your plan McKay, Atlantis is going dark. None of her systems will be functioning for three months. What do you propose we do in the meantime?"

"I thought that was obvious. That's why I said 'we need to be elsewhere'."

"You…" Lorne rubbed the back of his neck, he was getting a headache. "You mean to abandon the city." It was a statement, not a question.

"Look, the holidays are coming up. Send everyone but a skeleton crew to Earth for three months or until this is done. The Daedalus won't be back for four weeks. We can use the Alpha site for a temporary base. Then when the Daedalus gets here we can have her ferry teams back and forth. Jumpers will be off limits; they need to be purged since Replicator Elizabeth first…well you know. So will the gate. We can't afford to be carrying anything electronic back and forth. We just have to leave all electronics here so they can be purged. I've already started on a program that can be intergraded with Atlantis's systems that will reach out to all connected computers. The ARG's will handle all the handheld equipment and games—of course, I'll have to vary the frequencies. I can use the computers at the Alpha site to complete the recharge program in that time. I just have to gate back to 711 and download the schematics again onto a clean computer."

"Dr. McKay I have to say I'm not thrilled with this ambitious plan." Richard began saying. "But we also don't have a defense against seven Replicator ships either. And moving Atlantis now won't solve our problem either. The logistics of this undertaking are…"

"Excuse, Mr. Woolsey, but Rodney has not yet got to the bad part." Radek informed.

"Bad part, what could possibly be worse?"

Radek continued, "as I say before, Atlantis is sentient being. A strong gene carrier is going to have to instruct Atlantis to shut down her systems one by one so they can be purged. Then instruct Atlantis to shut done herself. Then gene carrier will have to reinitialize Atlantis."

"We just have to be in her, right, to do that. She'll feel us and reactivate."

"No Colonel, when we came first time, Atlantis was just dormant. Conserving her power but she was…what is word…alive. This would be like resuscitating a heart that has stopped. See difference?" The Czech explained.

Woolsey stood and walked to the window overlooking the gate room from his office. "The more I hear about this course of action, the more I don't like it." Turning around, "Doctors, I need your full reports by tomorrow morning, including a list of strong ATA carriers. I'll have to inform the SGC we'll be out of contact for three months. Colonel, I need a full analysis of how the military will operate. I don't have to tell you this, this all hinges on the Daedalus being available to supply support for three months."

oOo

Three quarters of the expedition were evacuated back to Earth through the stargate just in time for the holiday season to begin. There was a mixture of emotions; most were glad to be going home and visiting family and friends. Yet they wondered if there would be an Atlantis to return too. With an armada of Replicator ships heading their way, the plan to wipe out the nanites infesting Atlantis by shutting her off, seemed like far too high a risk. This Thanksgiving would see a number of members giving special thanks.

Lorne asked for volunteers from the military, where as Dr. McKay selected from the civilian side to stay behind. Members with multiple skills sets and cross-training in multiple duty assignments played an integral part in the selection. ATA gene carriers with a high Chair Interface Aptitude level were in high demand. Dr. McKay caught himself on a regular basis wishing that Sheppard was back on Atlantis.

Between Radek and Rodney they devised in chronological order the shut-down sequence for Atlantis. First all Earth based technology had to be shut down and cleaned: computer banks, laptops, and data pads, digital cameras, electronic handheld games, electric razors and toothbrushes. Everything got hit with an ARG. Then each ATA gene member sat in the control chair for two hours at a time; purging the system of unwanted bits of one's and zero's and, of course, of any nanites before that system was turned off. Rodney started with the lowest rated CIA gene carrier to shut down the simple systems and worked his way up through the strongest rated CIA gene carriers for the more difficult and primary system shut downs. It was all a matter of balance. It was a tedious endeavor and most gene members had never sat in the control chair before. Between McKay and Zelenka they monitored the process with the utmost scrutiny.

oOo

Neither David nor John brought up the job offer or Sheppard Industries again. Not even in general 'how was your day' conversation. John remained focused on his therapy. The pain was subsiding more and more and for short periods of time he could actually use his left arm, but it tired rather quickly.

Thanksgiving had come and gone. It had been just the two of them. Claire had made an exceptional meal. David retired to his home office and John retired to the den to watch football. Claire, Jerry and even Rose saw the change between siblings. They didn't know what had happened. There hadn't been any shouting or yelling to cause a rift, but "sure as the day was new" Clair had said, something had changed. The brotherly camaraderie seemed to have vanished over the last few weeks.

oOo

Christmas was just a week away. The house had been decorated by a professional inside and out and the boss was having his annual executive holiday party here at the house. The office holiday party was to be the following night at a renowned up-scale restaurant. For tonight's party David had hired a catering company but Claire oversaw everything that went on in her kitchen. Guests began arriving a little past five. Cocktails were served from the bar in the den while hors d'oeuvres filled the formal dinning table for all to take part in while music, laughter and conversations spilled all around.

John did his duty as big brother; joining the party wearing his black suit with gray shirt and striped tie. The monk strap shoes completed his business look. David introduced him to all the executives along with their wives. The twelve members of the Board of Directors were also present. Giving John at least two people he knew at the party. Mrs. Dellifonté had even brought her special chocolate cake which John had Claire hide for him after sneaking a taste.

The party was a huge success. It also gave John the chance to watch his brother in his work environment as it were. John had yet to step foot inside Dave's downtown office. And after the fiasco five weeks ago in the den John was sure David didn't want him to either. David mingled, he made it a point to talk with each of his guests, he joked and even sang. It was a one-eighty from how John remembered his father had dealt with these parties when he was younger. Dave knew his executives and their families evident by his asking how they were doing by name. His father never showed any interest in personal stories. All his father cared about was the bottom line and profit.

One couple John had been introduced too had just found out their teenage daughter had cancer. A dream of hers was to ride a horse before she died. David told the couple to bring her anytime she was feeling up to it and he would personally take her riding. David explained they had an indoor arena and that weather would not be an issue. John sensed his brother was very genuine about the offer. Hell, he'd do it if David was busy.

"You look bored." Angela Durham said as she walked up to John who was standing off in a corner.

John refocused. He'd been watching his brother move about the room. "Sorry?"

"You're forgiven. I'm Angela. I'm Director of Human Resources. And don't be sorry, my husband is just as bored since he doesn't know anyone here either."

"Does it show that much?"

"Only if you know what to look for. And I do."

"How long have you worked for my brother, Angela?"

"Actually I've worked for Sheppard Industries for sixteen years now, but the last three have been the best." Angela stated with raised wine glass as if she had made a toast.

John reciprocated by tipping his bottle of beer. "Oh. Why's that?"

"Well…I mean no disrespect to your father, John, but he was old fashioned. He didn't change with the changing times. When David took over he made a lot of changes."

"What kind of changes? I mean, if you can tell me that is, I'd like to know."

"Well…for one he changed the dress code; it's still professional, but with latitude. David set up a wellness reimbursement plan along with an in office fitness center on the sixth floor. David remodeled the basement to add a cafeteria and lounge. We have six interns working for us; two are from our local high schools and the other four are earning college credit hours. We get our cell phone plans at almost half the cost. He created flex-time positions for working mothers and fathers which allows them to take and pick up their kids from school. That was a huge change. Being in personnel I had to deal with many parents who were finding it hard to find flexible daycare to suit their needs. Your father, rest his soul, was a stickler with the eight to five work day. David understands that today's employers have a responsibility to meet the needs of the general workforce. And your brother is doing a remarkable job. Oh…there's Mario. Please excuse me John but I have to…" Angela's thought petered out as she quickly made her way over to Mario.

"I hope Angela didn't talk you into a coma. That's one woman who loves to talk about her job. Hi. I'm Rob Maxwell, from Acquisitions on eight."

"Nice to meet you Mr. Maxwell. Angela was just telling me about some of the changes my brother's made to the company."

"David's got a good head for business. He's tripled Sheppard Industries net growth. He puts a lot of money back into the company as well as the community. And I hear that you're pretty good with numbers yourself John. You knew that Western Technologies numbers didn't add up. I had them pegged as a winner; on paper they looked good. But the boss had me go over it again and I just wanted to thank you. You saved SI a lot of money." Rob held out his hand and after John set down his beer bottle he gave the man a hearty shake just as Rob's wife called him away.

John disposed of his empty bottle deciding he should put some food in his stomach. The formal dinning room had been set up with hors d'oeuvres of every imaginable sort. All bite size and cutesy looking. McKay and Ronon would have had a field day with all this. John's hand hovered over the plates. That was the first time he'd thought of his teammates in months. Actually since Dave helped him put his photos in the photo book. Snapping out of his daze John started to pick and choose what looked good filling his plate as he moved it down the table since he only had use of one hand. When he'd piled enough on, he headed for the kitchen.

Sitting down at the breakfast table John popped a filled pastry into his mouth. Lemon. Rodney can't have that one. John ate a few more bites.

A glass of water was set down in front of him accompanied by Claire. "You're not hiding out in here are you John?" Claire took one of the stuffed pastries off his plate and ate it. Making a strange face that was full of disappointment.

"No, just needed a place to set my plate down. Hard to eat one handed." John picked up the glass of water and drank half of it. That last bite he took was way too salty. "Thanks."

"You're welcome. Are you enjoying yourself?" Claire asked.

"I don't know if I'm really enjoying myself as much as I'm learning more about David and how the company has changed from what I remember. Everyone who has spoken to me has said how much better the company is now and how much they love David as their boss. In my head I still see my father sitting behind his desk on the phone yelling—demanding that they do as he said. I remember the office being a cold lifeless place, the workers being complacent and non-adversarial towards my father; like he was this perfect person personified. I know for a fact he wasn't perfect. At the time I was too young to understand what it all meant, what I saw, but now, now I realize just how much of a bastard my father was."

"John, you're father had his faults like most men trying to raise two young sons without a wife. I'm not saying that excuses him, but he did his best with you two boys. You didn't make it easy for him either if I remember right. After your mother died Patrick poured his life into that company. He wanted it to be his legacy to his sons. It was important to him to know that you'd be taken care of."

"I would rather have had a father." John stated as he popped the last appetizer into his mouth. "Thanks Claire. I'd better get back in there."

oOo

As the hours trickled into days, days soon became weeks. The weeks added up to a month. Atlantis was two-thirds powered down by Christmas. No lights, no transporters, no water, no heating, and of course no people made Atlantis feel dark, cold and lonely. Richard set aside three days; mandating no further shut downs and no working on projects. It was his gift to the expedition members staying behind in less than comfortable surroundings.

Teyla had invited her teammates to New Athos for the three days. The Daedalus remained in orbit over the Alpha site. Celebrations were carried out both on the ship and on the planet. Then it would be back to Atlantis for more purging of systems.

Mr. Woolsey walked through the numerous huts, tall, proud, arms full, and with a smile on his face. Today was the Earth holiday Christmas. Though the expedition was made up of many countries with varying religious beliefs, most observed Christmas. After giving his blessing over the party being held on the Alpha site he gated to New Athos at Teyla's personal request.

"Lovely hat, Mr. Woolsey."

"Why thank you, Nazerrie. Good day to you." He exclaimed as he pressed on to his final destination. He'd gotten to know some of Teyla's people in his two years of being Head of the Expedition. He prided himself on remembering their names. Teyla's living quarters were just around the next corner. Richard cleared his throat before speaking. He wasn't used to announcing his arrival. He much preferred Earth knocking or Atlantis's door chimes. "Teyla, it's Richard Woolsey," he spoke loudly at the canvas covering the doorway of her hut.

The flap covering the door whooshed back, "enter." Welcoming scents of Athosian stew and warm spiced bread greeted him. "Please come in Mr. Woolsey. May I take some of these from you?" Teyla inquired, but took several of the gifts from the top of his pile without hesitation. Kanaan and Torren were playing on the floor along with Ronon and Amelia. Ronon had used his spare time in between watching McKay and hunting on R9G-711 to carve a few toys. Torren was happily playing and chewing on them. Sheppard had once told Ronon that Christmas was about the kids.

Ronon had watched Sheppard spending his Christmas time off playing with the Athosian children. He was their favorite playmate.

Rodney was watching from the make-shift couch with a plate of food stacked a mile high. "Nice hat." He uttered turning back to his food and the child like entertainment at his feet.

When volunteers were being asked to stay behind, Jennifer Keller had had a serious talk with Rodney. Jennifer was torn, she wanted to share their first Christmas as a couple together along with all the other holidays. But she'd never get this chance again to spend three plus months with her father. Rodney had told her to go and to consider it his gift to her. He would be working a lot of the time anyway he explained. Jeannie would kill him later when she found out her brother could have come home for three months. But by now, Rodney was used to that from his sister. And besides, he'd rather have meat stew, than tofurkey.

"Is that a traditional headdress to be worn on this day?" Kanaan inquired.

"No, I wouldn't say traditional. In our Christmas stories, Santa Claus wears a red suit with black boots and belt. He brings children toys if they've been good. This hat is a representation of that suit. I enjoy wearing it on this day." As Teyla recalled after Mr. Woolsey became Head of the Expedition, she often found him relaxing in a suit and tie. She smiled at that thought seeing how Mr. Woolsey was now dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and coordinated tie instead of his Atlantis uniform, but with the added flare of his red Santa hat complete with white snowball.

"Please, sit down. May I get you some tea Mr. Woolsey?"

"That would be very nice Teyla, thank you, and please, call me Richard."

"Where did all those presents come from?"

"Several members had them brought in on the Daedalus for Torren, Dr. McKay. When they found out they were going home for three months, somehow they ended up in my care."

Giggles and deep laughter resonated from the floor. "May I?" Richard asked before giving a wrapped gift to the nineteen month old baby. He could spend all day here playing Santa Claus.

Teyla passed him the tea as Lorne's voice could be heard on the other side of the door. "Come in Colonel." Teyla moved to the door holding the flap back as Lorne carried with him a gift as well.

"Were we supposed to bring our gifts? Because no one told me. I thought we were meeting here just for dinner." Rodney griped.

"Gifts were not a prerequisite Rodney, your company is all that I and my family require of you this day."

"Oh…okay then. Thanks."

oOo

John had two weeks off starting the week of Christmas and going through New Years. Artie said he got off on good behavior…yeah, right. Artie was headed to the Caribbean for sun, sand and surf. Needless to say, John was jealous. John had two shopping days left to decide what he was going to get his brother for Christmas. Everything he thought of was either lame or Dave had it already…in triplicate. Time was running out. His gift to his brother needed to be on a grandiose scale. Not some new tie he picked up at the men's store with Clarice's help.

How do you repay someone for taking you in when you had no where else to go; who fed you, cared for you, worried about you, kept you warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Who called you names, bickered back and forth and yet still loved you at the end of the day when you'd been a complete ass. David had done all this for him and more. No gift in the world could compare to what John had already been given.

David woke at his regular time. His body didn't know the difference between a work day and a holiday. He found John in the kitchen cooking breakfast. At the table nursing their morning coffee was Jerry, Claire and Rose instead. Pouring a cup for himself he joined the staff at the table. "You said if I ever tried to cook in your kitchen I'd be banished to the stables. How come you're letting John cook?"

"Because he told me this was my Christmas present." Claire let that sink in. The bonus David gave her and she supposed the rest of the staff was very generous. Claire addressed David's first issue. "And you, David Alan Sheppard know why. You left my kitchen in such disarray that it took me two days to clean up and put back everything you took out. And if John leaves me a mess like that you can be sure you won't be alone in the stables."

John smirked. When Claire used your full name, boy were you in hot water. He'd have to find out what Dave did to her kitchen just so he could tease his younger brother about it.

"So we have to put up with John's cooking all day?"

"I can hear you, you know." John sing-songed from the range. "Almost ready."

A timer dinged and John pulled open the oven door. A heavenly sweet smell filled the rather large kitchen. A buzzer went off next, another oven door opened and more great smells lofted out. John got busy filling everyone plates.

John served the ladies first before going back for the last three plates. David brought the coffee pot over refilling all five cups. "Looks good John. I didn't know you could cook."

"I learned how to make a few things out of necessity. Man can't live on take-out pizza and beer forever. Actually, Nancy taught me to make these. It's been a while since I… Dig in and Merry Christmas everyone."

John watched as they tentatively took their first bites. Ooo's, yumm's and oh my's seemed to sum it up.

"John, this is very good."

"Thanks, Jerry. Glad you like it."

"Yes, thank you John."

"You're welcome Rose." John waited to see what Dave and Claire had to say. "Well, do you like it?" John asked with anticipation.

"It's good John. Better then I thought."

John smiled, "thanks Dave. Claire? You don't like it do you?"

"No John… I love it." Memories of years gone by filled an old woman's thoughts. To Claire it wasn't that long ago when two scraggly young boys rushed into her kitchen with homemade gifts. "This is the nicest Christmas present I've gotten since you two were little boys."

"I just wanted to say thank you for taking care of me. All of you." John could feel his face flush no doubt turning his neck and his elf-like ears pink.

"And we're glad that you're here John. You've made this house seem more like a home. I hope you decide to stay." David added.

"When did you two boys start sharing your feelings? Enough with this or you'll make an old woman cry. Now John is there any more of this scrumptious quiche and coffee cake left because I'd like more." Claire stated.

"Me too." Rose said with raised plate in hand.

Jerry added his, "don't forget me."

"And me." Shouted David.

oOo

Torren really got the hang of ripping off the pretty paper to get to what was underneath. He had new toys, new clothes, new shoes, new games and a variety of stuffed animals.

"Here Teyla, I made this for you." Evan said as he passed over a rather large package. "Actually it's for Kanaan and Torren too."

Teyla carefully removed the cloth and gasped. "It is beautiful Evan, thank you. Look Kanaan." Turning the canvas so Kanaan could see as well as the others.

Evan had given Teyla a painting. The subject matter was of her, Kanaan and Torren as a family with Atlantis and the Athosian settlement faintly painted in the background. It was absolutely breathtakingly beautiful.

Rodney slipped out while the others played one of Torren's new games. By all accounts he was losing anyway. Rodney returned bearing several rolled parchments tied with seaweed grasses.

"Um…Sheppard told me in his letter that I should share his belongings with the base. At the time, I couldn't do it. But I think he would approve of this if he were here. Of course, his gifts are back on Atlantis. I hadn't really planned this but after seeing…well you get the idea. Anyway, with Jinto's help, he and I made up these scrolls as sort of a pseudo gift. So, Ronon here's Sheppard's guitar. If anyone can make music with that thing it should be you since you're so good with your hands."

"I thought that was destroyed when…you know." Ronon commented.

"Actually it wasn't. It was under his bed. The only place he didn't…you know. It wasn't discovered until Lorne wanted the stored power bars that Sheppard kept hidden there. Teyla, for you, his book: War and Peace. May one day we know no war, but only peace."

"Amen to that." Lorne and Woolsey mumbled in praise.

"Thank you Rodney. I will treasure it always."

"Same here, McKay." Ronon said from his spot on the floor.

"Colonel, you have your pick, graphic novels, skateboard or golf clubs."

"Graphic novels; the only thing I want to swing is my paintbrush."

"Mr. Woolsey this one is for you."

"What is it?"

"It's Sheppard's MP3 player. It contains a variety of music. I know you prefer classical, and there are some classical pieces but there is a whole range of other music styles. And this is for Torren. Sheppard asked that I teach him to race cars when he gets older. I know he's not old enough yet to work the control, so when we get back you'll have to put it aside for awhile." Rodney passed the rolled parchment over to Teyla as a reminder. "And these are from me." He handed out a flash drive to his teammate. "It's ah…it's a copulation of photographs taken since we got here. I hope you all like it."

"That is very nice of you Rodney to go to so much trouble."

oOo

Later Christmas day John found his brother in his office. "I sure hope you're not working. Surely the CEO of a Fortune 500 Company can take a day off without feeling guilty."

A book lay open in front of David. "No I'm not working. Remembering."

"Remembering what? What are you looking at?" John moved behind the desk so he could look over his brother's shoulder. David had a photo album out. It was the last Christmas they shared as a family with their mother. She died the following summer. "Oh. God, I miss her. Mom was so beautiful wasn't she?"

"Very." David turned the pages carefully scanning each image on the page until there was no more. "I meant what I said at breakfast. Having you here makes this big old house seem more like a home. I want you to consider staying."

"I'll stay until you tell me it's time to leave." It had taken John most of the day to realize that David was not like his father. He should have figured it out long before now. Probably back when he first came knocking on the front door to say 'Hi' and David invited him. He should have known when David spent time with him, shopping, watching TV and movies, going out to dinner, the theater, putting his pictures in the book he bought, putting his clothes away and, of course, the football games they attended. John should have figured it out last week during the executive holiday party. The way David moved around the room talking to his guests. How the guests told John what a wonderful boss he was. It really shouldn't have taken him this long to figure it out.

"Hey, I got you a present." John pulled the small square box from his pants pocket and presented it to his brother. He took a seat across from Dave and waited for his brother to open the box.

It was your normal gold gift box that jewelry stores used its size not much larger than a deck of cards. Cufflinks, David thought. David pulled the top off and found tissue paper; peeling back the paper, underneath was a rough cut piece of brown cardboard. Picking up the cardboard the reverse side had 'YES' written on it, nothing else, no explanation, just the word 'yes'.

"I don't understand John. 'Yes' to what?"

oOo

"Okay Colonel now we're at the hard part. We…meaning you, will need to shut down the last few primary systems." Rodney held up the two way radio they had been using since internal communications had been shut down a week ago. "Radek, pull the ZedPM. We're ready on this end."

"Pulling now." The Czech replied. "Okay, Rodney shut down the gate."

"You heard the man Colonel, shut down the stargate."

Lorne took a deep breath before closing his eyes. He concentrated his thoughts on the stargate until an image of the gate and its surrounding system materialized in his head.

'Don't'

On the outside Rodney was walking him through the purge and shut down procedure. "Don't what McKay?"

"Don't what McKay, what? I didn't say anything."

"Oh, thought I heard you say 'don't'."

"Well I didn't and you're doing good. Keep going. The star drive is next."

'Listen'

'This isn't the way'

Atlantis's large primary systems took several hours each to shut down. When Lorne had had enough, Morelli took his place. Morelli's gene wasn't strong enough, so they tried Hayes next. Hayes couldn't do it either. There were only a few points difference between the three men so that left them with only Colonel Lorne. After a few hours rest the Colonel returned to shut down the next system.

'Stop'

'You Mustn't'

'Please Listen'

oOo

"Happy New Year Mr. Sheppard."

"Happy New Year."

"Good Afternoon Mr. Sheppard."

"Afternoon."

"Looking pretty sharp there Sir."

"Thanks."

"Afternoon Sir, you have two messages; I put them on your desk. Legal needs to know whether or not to go ahead with Alltex-Landsing; and your brother wants to see you."

"Thanks Jeanette. Tell legal to proceed with Alltex. I just worked it out with their guy Ramirez on the way in. You should be getting the corrected balance sheets via fax any minute. I guess I should see what my brother wants first."

Two minutes later John wrapped his knuckles on his brother's office door. "You wanted to see me?" John said as he leaned in the doorway. His casual, laidback style was punctuated by the five thousand dollar suit he wore. Accessories not included.

"Come in. It's been a week now and I want to know how things are going."

John shook his head in utter disbelief. "Dave it's my fourth afternoon here. Rehab remember? And it's going just fine. You could have waited and asked me when I got home? So what's really on your mind? Are you reconsidering my being here? Because if you are I'm okay with it. This is your company. You have to do what's best."

"Of course I want you here John, now more than ever. I just want to make sure you're happy."

"David, David, David. You gave me a corner office. And when I find out who you kicked out of it I'll be helping them move back in. Shoulder or no shoulder. Jeanette is great. For the most part all I have to do is put a post-it note with a 'yes' or a 'no' on the stuff that crosses my desk and Jeanette handles it from there. Easy. Now if the boss is over his anxiety attack, I have to earn my keep."

David looked embarrassed at being caught. "Go! I'll see you at home."

It really was that easy. John reviewed the business proposals that Jeanette put on his desk. He had a stock of hot pink post-it squares (Jeanette's favorite color) and a drawer full of black markers. If it was a 'yes', he put it to the right. A 'no' was put to the left. Jeanette would come in periodically throughout the day removing the piles. What she did with them John had no idea; didn't want to know either. He liked simple. Occasionally he made a call. When he had no proposals he turned to his office laptop for a distraction.

On Friday, John showed up at his brother's office door. After Dave signaled he could enter John started talking. "Artie's moving me to three days a week now, Monday, Wednesday and Friday starting this coming Monday."

David was pleasantly shocked to hear the news. "That's great John. Does this mean your shoulder is back to normal?"

"No. Just means the pain from the nerve damage has finally been worked out. Starting next week Artie will be focusing more on my range of motion, dexterity and loss of strength. Thinks it might take a couple 2-3 months."

"Still, that's wonderful news."

John hemmed over his next statement. "I know I said…"

"Yes." David said rather quickly.

"Yes?"

"Yes John there is plenty of work to warrant you being here more often. I know we agreed to part-time and on your terms. But the better question is: do you want to be here?"

"Oh." John plunked down in the office chair giving serious thought to what just transpired. He liked what he was doing, he liked working for his brother, he even liked his brother. Grinning John looked up at his boss who just happened to be his younger brother and said, "I do."

oOo

The chair room on Atlantis was lit by generators; four to be exact. Each one sat in the corner flooding the room with light. The noise made by the generators was distracting to say the least. Lorne sat in the chair waiting for McKay's go ahead to restart Atlantis.

Two hours ago he'd managed to shut down Atlantis. That was the last of all the systems in order to wipe out the last of the Replicator nanites that had infested her. The Daedalus orbiting overhead confirmed Atlantis was no longer broadcasting a signal to the approaching Asuran ships. Caldwell also confirmed that the ships were still on approach; speed and estimated time of arrival was still a projected target of one month.

It had been strange the last three months living at the Alpha site. Working and being shuttled back and forth by the Daedalus. McKay and Zelenka took twelve hours shifts walking the ATA carriers through the shut downs. Where those two had found the time to finish the recharging program no one knew, but they had.

After two months the program was finished and ready to be installed. Lorne led the mission to R9G-711 using the Daedalus since Atlantis was still going through the shut down process and the Alpha site could not dial in. It was rather anticlimactic when McKay downloaded the new program, opened the hidden drawer, plugged their depleted ZPM in and closed the drawer again. It would take a month to recharge which wasn't giving them much time before the Asuran ships would be in their sector of space. They needed all the ZPM power they could get to fly the city to a new location. Here on M35-117 they didn't have a geo-thermal platform to give them a boost.

"Okay Colonel you can proceed with the start-up any time."

Lorne leaned back in the control chair; no blue light this time glowing behind his head. The chair was cold and blank. Making himself as comfortable as he could in an upright position he thought 'on'. Thoughts of Atlantis coming back to life, of lights turning on, the distant hum in his head that he realized a few months ago had been Atlantis. After hearing Dr. McKay explain what it was like for Colonel Sheppard, Lorne took an interest and listened. Lorne thought 'on' and 'start-up', 'wake-up', 'engage', even 'hello'; plus a few others. All these thoughts and more raced through his head urging Atlantis to wake up and hear him.

"Are you thinking restart, Colonel?"

"No, I thought I'd just sit back and close my eyes for awhile. It's been a busy few months for me. Why is it not working? Did you do something wrong? Not plug something in right? What?"

"There's nothing to plug in yet Colonel, you haven't woken up Atlantis yet. And until you do, there's nothing for me to do. Now keep trying. Did you try 'engage'?"

"Yes, and even 'pretty please', nothing is happening. Even the chair feels different. Cold. Lifeless."

"You're just not trying hard enough. Remember when you opened the ruins on 349 and 711? You had to think real hard, now think. Real Hard!"

Colonel Lorne used every fiber of his being trying to wake Atlantis back up. After two hours he had a headache that wouldn't quit. To McKay's protests he left the chair room for the refuge of his dark, cold quarters. "I'll try again later," he mumbled as he rubbed his temples walking away into the darkened hallways.

Radek saw the desperation in his coworker's eyes. "We had no choice."

"I know. What if…what if Atlantis was never meant to be shut off? What if I can't fix this? What if she's actually dead, Radek? What if I actually killed her? What then?"

"The Colonel will try later. He will succeed, we all will succeed. Don't give up hope Rodney."

"I wish Sheppard was here." Rodney muttered more to himself then anything.

oOo

John worked the three half days after his rehab and worked two 8 hour days for his brother in the acquisitions department. He'd found out three weeks in to his new job that Dave had given him Rob Maxwell's office in the corner. John was furious with his brother. John had made it perfectly clear from the beginning that he didn't want any special treatment, didn't want his brother playing favorites just because they were related. John only took the job after his brother had promised him that he would be treated just like all the other employees, and not the 'boss's brother'. So the first chance he got, John told Dave he was going for a Saturday morning drive. It wasn't a total lie, John did drive—to the office where he moved all his stuff out, which wasn't much and spent the rest of the day moving Maxwell's stuff back in, which was a lot.

By the time he got home in the late afternoon John's shoulder was screaming for relief. In the back of his head, John could just about make out the dressing down he was going to get come Monday morning from Artie. Artie would have made one hell of a Drill Sergeant had he chose a military career.

Working made the weeks fly by. John was turning the page of his desk calendar over and was surprised to find it was March 1st. Where had the time gone? John couldn't believe that he'd been working for two months already. He settled in his chair and grabbed the top file folder. Opening it up he reviewed the financial page before marking it with a 'yes' or a 'no'.

On Friday John wrapped his knuckles on the door frame of his brother's office. He was still wearing his PT clothes which David thought was odd. John always changed into a suit before he left Dr. Breslowe's office.

"I'm done." John said once he was seated in front of his brother.

David was a bit taken aback. Was John declaring it quits? From all accounts John had told him he liked working here, liked what he was doing. "Why? I thought you liked working here. What changed?"

John took a double take at his brother's response, then realized how it sounded to announce 'I'm done' like he did. "I do. I really do. That's not what I meant. What I meant was I'm done with PT. Artie kicked me out today. My shoulder is as good as it's going to get. He said I could stop in for adjustments from time to time when I need it. But I'm done. I wanted you to be the first to know."

"And your range of motion?" David asked cautiously. Fearing that John would be asking the Air Force for his job back.

John picked up on his brother's tone. "Eighty percent." When Dave didn't seem to get the significance John elaborated. "I need ninety percent in order to serve. Guess you're stuck with me a while longer. One good thing did happen this morning. The strength on my left side has improved. Artie had me do another one of those strength tests; my left hand is now in the very good column with 60 kilograms. My right hand is 69. Artie thinks that's as good as its going to get. All in all I feel like celebrating. Thought you might like to play hooky the rest of the afternoon and come with me. Louise said you had nothing urgent on your schedule for this afternoon that couldn't be postponed until next week."

"What'd ya have in mind?"

"Now you're talking. Grab your stuff, I'll tell you in the car."

oOo

"I'm here to see John Sheppard. I was told I could find him here."

"Do you have an appointment, Sir?"

"No. I didn't think I needed one."

"You'll need to make an appointment with his secretary and come back at a later time." The receptionist stated.

"Can I make an appointment with you?"

"Of course."

"Good, now we're getting somewhere. I'd like to make an appointment to see John Sheppard in…" Looking at his watch, "…ten minutes. Will that work for you?"

The receptionist was aghast at this man's unreasonable request. "I'm sorry, Sir. Please call this number to make an appointment." She slid one of John's business cards across the counter with his secretary's phone number.

"Oh for crying-out-loud. This is…"

"General O'Neill?" A voice from behind interrupted.

Jack did an about-face, "Sheppard! Good timing, this nice lady wouldn't let me see you. I thought for sure the 'General's outfit' would get me past your front doors."

John half laughed and smiled his lopsided grin. "It's alright Bethany; I'll take it from here. Sir, follow me, we can talk in my office." John led O'Neill to a bank of elevators. Once inside, John pressed the eighth floor button. John made a mental note to talk with Beth later. "So what brings you to Richmond, General?"

"Oh a little of this, a little of that. How's the shoulder?"

"As good as it's going to get Sir, but not good enough to be reinstated. It took nearly three months for the pain to work itself out once I got here and started daily PT, then another month or so to get my dexterity back. What little there is anyway. Hurts like hell when the weather changes too." O'Neill snorted just then the elevator dinged on their floor. Stepping out the General followed Sheppard to his office.

"I know the feeling Sheppard. My knee is the same way. Old battle injury."

"Jeanette, hold all calls and reschedule my 10 am meeting. I'll be in my office with General O'Neill."

"I'll take care of it. Can I get either of you coffee?"

"Sir?"

"Black would be fine, thank you."

After the General entered his office John shut the glass door. The offices on this floor were glassed in projecting a modern sleek, we're not hiding anything look to potential investors. John's office was a cookie-cutter copy of the offices on this floor.

John hung his long leather overcoat on the nearby coat tree. Taking O'Neill's overcoat and hat as well. Jeanette's efficiency had hot coffee in their hands before they even sat down.

"Have a seat, Sir."

Jack made himself at home, "some nice set up you got here Sheppard. Nice suit too. I remember you telling me 'you weren't a paper-jockey'. What's all this?" Jack swept his hand across John's desk covered in folders.

"My dumb luck; I helped my brother out a couple of times when I first came to visit. I'm good with numbers and Dave offered me a job a few months back. At first I turned him down. Told him I'm not the suit and tie type and wasn't cut out to be a paper-jockey; the same as I told you if that makes you feel any better. By Christmas I changed my mind. I've only been here a few months; basically just started at the first of the year."

"So what changed your mind?"

"A couple things, really. For one it's simple." John deadpanned.

"Simple?"

"Yes Sir. See all I have to do is look at the financial page of a company to see if they would make us money, then write a yes or a no on a sticky note and put it on the folder. Jeanette does the rest. Simple. You know how lazy I am, Sir about any kind of paperwork. I doubt that the job you offered me at the Pentagon would be this simple."

"You're probably right. And the other reason?" Jack took a swallow of his coffee.

"I realized this wasn't my Dad's company anymore. Dad ran it with an iron fist. Hardly knew his employees; expected me to run it one day just like he did. It took me a while to see that Dave wasn't like my father. And my brother doesn't expect me to run the company."

Jack nodded his understanding. "I need your help."

"Figured as much." John took a swallow of coffee himself. "Antarctica?"

"No Atlantis. About five, six months ago they discovered seven ships heading their way. McKay verified they were Replicator ships, seems not all of them returned home like you thought when you destroyed their planet. Seems they've been hiding out on the far side of the galaxy until recently. Replicator Weir and her followers, well they managed to leave some nanites behind after the incident you had with them. The ships were homing in on their signal."

"Were?"

"McKay came up with this brilliant plan."

"Of course he did. That's what he does best."

"Yeah, well this plan of his involved purging Atlantis. They had to shut down every system, including Atlantis herself. Process took three months."

"Wow, three months with no systems. They evacuated?"

"Most expedition members are getting a three month leave here on Earth. A small contingent stayed at the Alpha site."

"What went wrong? Why do you need me? Seems McKay and Lorne handled the situation just like I would have."

"We don't know that anything is wrong. We've been out of contact with them while they did this. Their three months were up three weeks ago. They should have contacted the SGC by now if all went according to McKay's plan. I just have… Let's call it General's intuition. I wish SG-1was around."

"Where's SG-1?" The General's face went pensive. "Sorry, Sir. Need to know and I don't need to know anymore."

"Hell, I know you can keep your mouth shut. I told you that Landry and SG-1 took the Odyssey to Orilla. Well, turns out the upgrades the Asgard did to the ship's core, the Ori can track them. Landry beamed the crew down to a planet after an Ori attack and jumped into hyper space. According to the crew reports it's most likely their still jumping from place to place outrunning the Ori until they can come up with a way to stop them. They've been AWOL for several months now. I tasked the Apollo to see if they could locate the Odyssey while the Daedalus was tasked for air support and emergency evac for Atlantis."

"Shit." John expelled, then realized he had a General sitting across from him in his office. "Sorry, Sir."

"You're not in the military and I'm not your commanding officer right now Sheppard, so relax. And 'shit' would be a correct assessment of the situation. For the last seven or so months I've been temporarily reassigned back to the SGC. I hope we locate the Odyssey soon, I hate paperwork as much as you do Sheppard. Hell, the second month I was there we lost power."

"The Ori?"

"No, worse than that." John didn't want to know what could be worse than the Ori. "I didn't pay the electric bill." General Jack O'Neill stated bluntly.

John burst out laughing. He couldn't control himself and his sides were beginning to ache. Good thing John wasn't drinking his coffee at the time or he would've made one hell of a mess of his black suit and desk. How the General could sit there straight faced was beyond him.

"It's not funny Sheppard. The President chewed my ass a good one."

"I'm sure it wasn't Sir." John managed to get out between bouts of laughter. "Back to why you're here; 'General's intuition'. What can I do?"

"I pulled the Apollo off S&R, she's on stand-by ready to take you to Atlantis. According to our calculations the Asuran ships will be in Atlantis's solar system within the next ten to twelve days. I know we're pushing it. We've made some upgrades to the Apollo and Col. Ellis thinks he can get there in the time allotted. We're hoping you make it before the Replicator ships do. My gut says something went wrong with McKay's brilliant plan. I want you to fix it and keep the Replicators from overtaking Atlantis."

"How much time do I have?"

Jack looked at his watch, "I can give you an hour."

"Okay, guess I won't go home and pack then." John picked up his phone, "Jeanette, would you call my brother and tell him I need to see him in my office immediately. Thanks. I'll be ready to leave just as soon as Dave gets here."

"I've got gear already stowed on board the Apollo for you."

John nodded his understanding. He had a few minutes before Dave would arrive. "So what else is new in Pegasus?"

"McKay found a way to recharge those Zed thingies. We've already beamed our duds up to the Apollo."

John smirked at his next thought and before he could stop himself he blurted it out. "Bet you wished you had a full ZPM when the lights went out…Sir."

Jack growled, "Sheppard."

Knock Knock

"Saved by the knock at the door." John smirked, then waved his brother in. Standing he moved around his desk to make introductions. "Dave, this is General O'Neill, General, my younger brother and boss David Sheppard." The two men shook hands sizing each other up. "Dave, I need to take a leave of absence, say for six weeks—eight tops. Starting right now," he said with a wince.

"Okay. Can I ask where you'll be?"

"Sorry Mr. Sheppard, but that information is classified." O'Neill informed.

"Will you be coming back?" David knew he sounded insecure but he really liked having his brother back and didn't want to lose him again.

"Yes Dave, I'll be coming back. But I also promised General O'Neill that I'd help him out if he was in a bind. And he needs my special talents right now."

"What about your shoulder, I thought you couldn't be in the service with your shoulder injury." David reminded them.

"I can't and that's the truth. But this job is just a…" John hesitated looking for the right word so his brother wouldn't panic further. He was just about to answer when the General spoke up.

"…a consultation job. No physical prowess necessary." O'Neill added.

While David continued to grill General O'Neill about his motives for needing John, John went to give his secretary instructions. Clearing his calendar for the next two months. He heard his brother ask, "Is it dangerous?" But didn't hear O'Neill's reply.

oOo

"Welcome aboard the Apollo General, Colonel Sheppard, and let me be the first to offer congratulations." Col. Ellis offered following up with an outstretched hand.

"Sir." John acknowledged, and then asked, "Congratulations for what?"

Colonel Ellis exchanged raised brows with General O'Neill. "Damn, I knew I forgot something. Now where did I put those…" O'Neill started to pat down his uniform pockets searching for whatever it was he misplaced. John looked between the two men with a questioning gaze. O'Neill patted down his overcoat next and found the small black box in his inside breast pocket. "Here it is." Jack handed his overcoat to Ellis to hold. "Sheppard, seems your medical discharge took place the day after promotions were announced. You made full Colonel. I had every intention of getting these to you sooner, but with my duties at the mountain and the Odyssey missing I never got the chance. Here are your eagles: I'd pin them on you, but I don't think the government could afford buying you a new suit. What is that Armani? Congratulations Colonel Sheppard, you've earned them."

General O'Neill snapped off a fine example of a military salute in Sheppard's honor. Colonel Ellis offered his hand again and this time John shook it. John turned his gaze back to the open black box he held, "wow. Never saw that coming."

Jack could see that John was awestruck. "Well Colonels you have a mission to complete and time is an issue. So Ellis if you would," Jack took his overcoat and moved back to the beam out area on the bridge. "I'll see you all when you get back for one hell of a debriefing." As the General was beamed back to Colorado, they heard him mutter, "I'm getting too old for this sh…"

"Lieutenant Franks set course for Atlantis best possible speed."

"Yes Sir."

"Colonel I'll show you to your quarters. You'll find a change of clothes. Nice suit by the way."

Sheppard just smiled.

oOo

"The Asuran ships will be here in a few days. It's been five weeks now and we haven't been able to get Atlantis back up and running. What do you propose we do now?" Richard Woolsey stated as calmly as he could. The senior staff had been arguing for four weeks on and off about how to correct this problem.

"He's not trying hard enough!" McKay said for the two thousandth time. "I told him he had to think really hard."

"I have been. I was McKay. So hard it gave me headaches. No…make that migraines because of your incessant harping." Colonel Lorne's shouted retort was followed up with a death glare beamed at the scientist. "If you think you can do better, why didn't you sit in the chair?"

"You know why Colonel. Your natural gene is the strongest one we've got. You just haven't been doing it right."

"How do you know I haven't been doing it right? Is there an instruction manual you haven't shown me? Cause it would sure come in handy right about now."

"Gentleman, please. Enough bickering, you're both giving me a headache and it's not helping the situation. It's apparent we can't reactivate Atlantis. And with the stargate off-line we can't contact Earth with our status. What's our next move? Suggestions?"

Sitting back in his chair with an exhaustive huff, "We can't allow the Replicators to have Atlantis that's a given. With no cloak, no shields and only the Daedalus, we're sitting ducks. We need to evacuate to the Daedalus. It will take five days with the men I have, less time if Col. Caldwell's men help out. We can plant explosives to break up Atlantis and use a Mark IV from the Daedalus stores to make sure she sinks."

"Sink her! That's your suggestion. Why is it all you military types go directly to blowing shit up? We wouldn't be having this problem if Sheppard were still here."

John had heard enough. He had hoped that McKay and Lorne would have gotten along better. Was he wrong? From what he had just heard he thought he must have been wrong. The Apollo had come out of hyper space making contact with the Daedalus right away. Col. Caldwell had been listening in on their discussion. He had been invited, but chose to stay on board his ship to monitor the approaching armada. His communications tech piped the feed over to the Apollo unaware that Colonel Sheppard was aboard.

A beam of white light blinded those in the semi-darkened conference room. "Did I hear my name mentioned?" John asked with a cocky grin.

Lorne stood up so fast his chair turned over. At first sight of the white beam he thought the Replicators were beaming into the city. His hand was on his gun ready to pull.

Teyla was first to reach John from across the room giving him a full out welcoming embrace. Ronon was next slapping him on the back with a wolfish grin from ear to ear. Others in the room were shouting welcoming wishes as well, their voices all overlapping but the sentiments were there.

As soon as his two Pegasus friends gave him room to breathe, Lorne stepped up with a handshake, "thank God you're here… Sir."

"Good to see you guys too. Ain't it a bit dark in here? Don't tell me you forgot to pay the electric bill too." John chuckled at his inside joke wishing O'Neill was here to hear it. However, the joke fell short on those in the room. "Okay…tough room."

"Colonel Sheppard how did you know?" Richard Woolsey queried.

"I didn't. General O'Neill had a gut feeling. When you guys didn't check in on schedule he came and asked me for my help. I just arrived on the Apollo. The Replicator ships just entered the solar system by the way so whatever you guys have planned, we need to execute right away." John looked over at Rodney who still hadn't spoken. "Rodney? You okay over there buddy?"

"No…no I'm not okay. I killed Atlantis, John. This is all my fault. I was the one who reactivated Weir's nanites in order to save her life. I caused this, so no again, I am not okay. We've been trying to wake Atlantis up, but Lorne couldn't even get the tiniest of spark from her. I've purged the nanites from her systems, but she just won't wake up. With the ships now in our sector of space it's only a matter of time before they find us. We were going to move her to a new planet. I have two fully powered ZedPM's waiting, but…"

John empathized with McKay's plight. "Okay then, sounds like we have the makings of a plan. Let's go wake Atlantis up and get out of here."

"We tried…or Lorne tried…has been trying for several weeks. She's gone John. I think I screwed up big…this time. I don't think she was ever meant to be shut off. But I had too…it was the only way to shut off the homing signal."

"Hey, Rodney, from what I've been told about your situation you did everything right. Don't give up on her just yet. Let's say I give it a shot. She always did like me best. At least that's what you always told me anyway."

Getting a nod from Rodney, John turned around and headed for the chair room; Rodney, Lorne, Teyla, Ronon, Radek and Woolsey all following. The other techs and scientists headed for the control room. Making it to the chair room took twice as long without working transporters and lighting.

"Congratulations on your promotion Sir." Lorne offered as the seven of them descended down the darken stairwell.

"Thanks." John shouted back over his shoulder. Reaching the chair room John slid into the chair. Teyla gave him a quick kiss on his cheek that had everyone in the room staring in shock. "What was that for Teyla?"

"Not to long ago when Colonel Lorne was promoted I was asked to seal the promotion with a kiss. For good luck I believe. So far Colonel Lorne has been very lucky. I wish you luck on your promotion as well. Congratulations John."

"Thank you Teyla." John replied with a smile. "I just might need it. Okay, all I need to do is think 'on', right?"

"On, engage, start-up, power-up, you get my drift. But John…"

"Let me try." Rodney nodded and John closed his eyes reaching his mind out to that of Atlantis. From within his mind he called out to her. 'Hey beautiful lady, I'm back. I missed you.' John could sense a faint presence but it was so far away. Farther than he'd ever experienced before and so small. John stretched his mind further reaching out to touch the very edge of Atlantis' existence. 'Atlantis we need you to wake up now. You're giving Rodney a complex; he thinks he's killed you. You know he'd never do that. He cares for you as much as I do. You were infested with electronic bugs. Rodney only wanted to get them out of you. Come on sweetheart, wake up for me.'

The chair leaned back on its own accord taking John with it. The faintest blue light haloed John's head.

"He's doing it!" Rodney exclaimed. Around the room faces smiled with the hope that John could wake her up in time.

'I'm here Atlantis. Come to me.'

'John.'

'Yeah it's me. I've missed you sweetheart.'

'My systems.'

'I know. You've been sleeping.'

'I tried to tell the one named Lorne.'

'I'm sure you did sweetheart. But in Colonel Lorne's defense he didn't know what to listen for. I'm sorry you had to go through that. We need your help now. We need to get your systems back on-line.'

'That will take much time.'

'We don't have a lot of time. So I'll help you.'

'As you wish.'

Now the light behind John's head glowed brilliant blue. The monitor over the console popped on, Ancient writing began to scroll. Radek and Rodney scanned it with a meticulous eye.

"He's doing it! Atlantis is back on-line. John, if you can here me, tell Atlantis to concentrate on the essential primary systems so we can fire the star drive. Don't worry about anything else."

"Okay." John managed to say. His head was filled with the beauty of Atlantis. The complexity of her systems it was all overwhelming to see them come to life. The multiple integers and fast flowing network consumed him. That he was in some small way making it possible took his breath away. 'Atlantis, did you hear Rodney? We need to concentrate on your primary systems. There are Replicator ships on the way here to destroy you. We have to move you to another planet to keep you safe. Do you understand?'

'I understand John. I will activate my sensors first so together we can keep appraised of their location.'

'That's my girl.'

Three hours turned into four, then quickly turned into five. Only a third of the necessary systems were up. John and Atlantis were working as fast as they could.

"It's taking too long. John needs to stop." Rodney muttered and turned to Woolsey who was standing in the doorway. Whispering his concern, "John's never spent this amount of time in the chair at one shot."

John and Atlantis had already brought up internal communications. Sitting in the chair John was aware of every conversation taking place within Atlantis. Aware of every key stroke that McKay, Zelenka or the ops techs in the gate room keyed in to help. However, he kept his focus more so on the people in the chair room with him. John heard Rodney's whispered concern for his wellbeing as if Rodney was whispering in his ear and not Woolsey's. "I'm okay Rodney."

"Wha the… How'd yo…"

"Is Evan still here?" John asked.

Colonel Lorne was standing off to the side with Ronon and Teyla watching Sheppard and Atlantis work at amazing speeds. Rodney and Radek hovered over the room's only console. Lorne's ears perked up at the mention of his name. He quickly moved over to the control chair, "right here Colonel."

"I think this would go faster if you help us. Take hold of my arm."

Lorne reached out wrapping his hand around Sheppard's arm. Lorne gasped at what instantly filled his mind. The imaginary overwhelmed his senses as he wobbled; lost in Atlantis' ever fast changing directions. Ronon rushed to Lorne holding him steady.

"Chair! Someone get a chair. He needs a chair." Rodney shouted with panic filled eyes.

Richard Woolsey and Teyla were closest to the door so they both sought to find a chair. Manually opening doors took both their strengths. Richard wheeled in a chair placing it next to the platform. Ronon eased Lorne down who was totally unaware of what was happening to him.

'Too fast.'

'Evan, can you hear me?'

'Colonel, is that you? Where are you? It's too fast.'

'I know, I'm right beside you, now listen carefully. Think of a garden hose. Right now the water is on full force. Think about slowly turning the water pressure down so there is barely a trickle of water coming out. Can you do that? Evan? John watched the surge of information continue to engulf Evan. 'Evan, are you listening? Can you hear me?'

The fast moving images began to slow as Evan thought about turning the garden hose off. The swirl of images took shape and forms that Evan now could understand. 'I can hear you Colonel. I feel like I've just been run over by a puddle jumper. Is it…is this what it's like for you? Is it always this fast?'

'Most of the time, yeah. We're running out of time Evan, Atlantis has the seven Replicator ships on her sensors. With your help I think we can get the last of the primary systems up. I need you to handle life support for right now.'

'Okay, wow…I can see them.' Evan said to himself…at least he thought he said it to himself. This place where he was at was endless yet it felt confined too. Bringing his mind back to the problem at hand he asked, ' how?'

'Open your mind to Atlantis; she's tried to talk to you before. But I doubt you knew it. She actually likes you better than McKay, but we better keep that to ourselves. She'll show you the way, then you have to initiate each sub-routine until life support if fully restored. If things get to be too fast, just think of the garden hose. We have to hurry, but we need it done right. Are you with me on this?'

'Yeah, I'm with you.'

Lorne opened his mind welcoming Atlantis in. At first it was a blur of colors all swirling around but he thought of the garden hose and slowly the blur of colors became the city.

'Follow me.'

'Who said that?'

'That was Atlantis Evan. Don't be afraid. Just open your mind and listen for her.'

Colonel Evan Lorne did as he was told. He followed her through electrical pathways to where the life support system was. There Atlantis instructed Lorne on how to bring up life support functions. Then he began the tedious task.

"Lorne's working on life support." Rodney informed the gathered group.

"How can you tell?" Richard asked almost in a whisper. The Ancient scanner still scrolled data at an alarming rate.

"He's working much slower than Sheppard. "No…no…not that one, the other one Colonel. Stop, you need to back up."

John knew McKay was monitoring their progress. "Which Colonel?"

"Oh, not you, you're doing fine. The other one. Lorne needs to stop and back up."

Colonel Lorne managed to squeak out the scientist's name. "McKay?"

"Okay, Colonel listen to me, back up to the c-3 and d-4 junction. You have to initiate the c-3 circuit first. Open it…okay, now the d-4. Good, now continue. I'll stop you if you get out of sequence. Just listen for my voice."

"Okay. Thanks."

Evan was being overwhelmed; first Atlantis and now McKay. Adding in the pressure of his task and doing it right also didn't help. The only thing he could do now was to keep his mind and ears open.

Several more minutes passed without incident. Sheppard was almost done with guidance. He'd already completed, sensors, internal and external communications, and internal power relays. John's next goal was propulsion.

Rodney blurted out another command. "Colonel stop. Go back to t-19 through t-22."

"Which one of us, McKay?" John wasn't sure if he missed something or not. Did he need to activate navigation before propulsion? He was working faster than normal.

"Sorry, sorry, the other Colonel."

"Okay, but you're going to have to differentiate. Time is of the essence or have you forgotten."

"Fine, yes, I'm well aware of the time constraints Colonel, but thank you for pointing them out to me. Okay, Major, back up to t-19, we got a problem there."

'Thanks Sheppard, I just got him trained to call me Colonel.' Lorne could hear Sheppard laughing inside his head which was just weird in so many ways.

"Major, you're going to have to re-route t-19; looks like it's been damaged. Tie it into s-49 where m-2 crosses. There. You're doing good. Okay, now try t-20 and see if it will initiate. Next. Stop! T-22, bypass it with d-97. Looks good, continue."

Rodney went back to watching the monitor. "Colonel stop! You can't initialize that until the ZedPM's are in place."

"So get them in place McKay. Lorne is almost done with life support. Once he's done we can fire up the star drive."

"You're forgetting one teensy tiny little system if you want to breathe while we're in outer space." Rodney informed before waving at Zelenka to head to the ZPM chamber.

"Shields." John deadpanned. 'I can't believe I forgot shields.'

'You're forgiven Sir. Just don't let it happen again. I like breathing.'

'I like breathing too.'

"Yes Shields. There you go, good boy."

"I'm not a dog Rodney."

"With all that hair who would know the difference?"

Lorne's eyes opened up and he was startled to find that he was sitting down with Ronon holding his shoulder to keep up upright. "That…" he began coughing uncontrollably; not realizing his throat had dried out on him. Then there was a bottle of water being pushed into his hand.

"Drink, Colonel." Teyla cooed.

After a few gulps he lowered the bottle. "Thanks." He said before he finished his earlier thought. "That was amazing…nothing like the shutting down process. I can't believe Colonel Sheppard did that for five and a half years." Lorne tried to get up, but found his legs not cooperating. "Whoa…"

"Remain seated Colonel, finish your water. You have been at this for many hours." Teyla informed him.

Hours? Evan thought to himself.

Lorne turned his head to look at Colonel Sheppard when he heard him talking. "Okay Rodney, put the ZPM's in. Shield systems are initiated now. All other systems on-line, star drive is in stand-by mode." The Colonel's eyes were still closed, his face relaxed, his breathing normal, his fingertips barely moving on the gel pads.

Wonder what I looked like.

"Zelenka, we're ready. Install the ZedPM's."

"Yes Rodney, installing them now." Radek replied. A minute or so later Radek reported back. "Rodney, they're in and all systems check out. We have 100 percent power on two ZPM's and 63 percent power on the third. We're good to go."

Rodney typed a few commands into his laptop. "Verified. Mr. Woolsey, we're ready here. Better inform the Daedalus and Apollo. Communications is up."

Woolsey tapped his ear piece informing both ships of their pending departure. "Okay Colonel Sheppard, you can take us out now."

"Firing star drive."

A thunderous rumble was heard when the six star drive engines ignited. Atlantis began to tremble and shudder before the magnified propulsion vibrations started to shake loose anything not nailed down; including standing people. The city slowly began its ascent up and out of the water. Wave after wave of water flowed out and away from the city in rings. Atlantis jolted as the last of her underwater support breached the surface. When Atlantis reached an elevation of eighteen thousand feet John activated the shield.

"Rodney, are we all in the central tower?"

"Yes, why?"

"We could collapse the shield just around the central tower to conserve power. Atlantis says she doesn't need to shield the whole city during hyper flight."

Typing furiously, "done. Good idea."

John used Atlantis's communications to contact the two Earth ships orbiting. "Daedalus, Apollo, this is Colonel Sheppard. Position your ships aft on the starboard and port sides behind the central tower. I'm going to open up a hyper space window big enough for all of us." John watched the two ships maneuver into position within his minds eye. "Stand by we're leaving M35-117 in 3, 2, 1, Mark." The window opened. John thrusts Atlantis forth into the vortex with the two smaller ships in tow.

John remained in the chair until they came out of hyper space several hours later. The last time he flew Atlantis the auto pilot disengaged and left them floating in deep space without a planet in sight. John didn't even bother reactivating the auto pilot system this time. He learned his lesson the first time around. No one told John where their next home planet would be, Rodney hadn't input any coordinates either so John just left it up to Atlantis. Atlantis ran the possible worlds through her system using the same criteria Rodney had programmed before when choosing M35-117. Choosing her new home; she ran the planetary specs by John for his approval. The new planet was located on the opposite side of the galaxy. Far from the pile of floating rocks that was once the Asuran home world and far from the seven Asuran ships they had just missed.

This little corner of the Pegasus Galaxy that Atlantis had chosen was well outside the normal Wraith feeding routes. It would provide a secure place to lay low and let the expedition catch their breath for a change. Maybe even get some research done on the side. John agreed with her choice.

After hours of silence, John's voice, rough and dry declared, "coming out of hyper space in 3, 2, 1, Mark." His message was also broadcast to the two Earth ships in his wake. "Coming in over the water."

Rodney had swiped the chair Lorne had used hours or days ago, he couldn't remember exactly, to rest his head on the console in a light doze. John's dry raspy voice startled him awake. Scrubbing a hand over his face, Rodney yawned. "Remember we wanna touch down gently. Not like last time when you plummeted Atlantis into the water or when Carson dropped us into the San Francisco Bay. You want to kiss the surface like a leaf on a pond."

"McKay, if you want to kiss the surface I'll take you out in a jumper to do that. In the mean time, I'm landing this pretty lady."

"You're too steep, ease up."

"I'm trying." John paused, "where's Lorne?" John had flown an Osprey once and it took both hands, both feet, fast thinking and then some to fly that big bird. Atlantis was proving to be just as difficult. Having another set of virtual hands and feet wouldn't hurt.

"Major Lorne you're needed in the chair room ASAP." Rodney said into his comm link before turning back to John in the control chair. "He's on his way. You're still too steep, ease back a bit."

Colonel Lorne ran into the room minutes later, "what's the emergency McKay? And it's 'Colonel' now." He added for good measure.

"Sheppard needs you."

Ronon and Teyla also filed in.

"Colonel Sheppard, what can I do?"

John turned his hand upwards hoping to convey what he needed as his concentration was on not killing them or breaking apart the city. The Daedalus and Apollo both executed turns away from the city taking up a geosynchronous orbit over the new planet. Lorne took hold of his arm and immediately was thrust into the melee of landing.

'I need you to handle the pitch and yaw. I think I can control everything else. She's a pretty big girl. I mean that in the nicest way too.'

'Okay, let me find…alright, I have control now of pitch and yaw.'

'Rodney wants us to kiss the water lightly.'

'After we're down in one piece I'll kiss him.' Sheppard couldn't help but laugh at that having witnessed McKay and Beckett kissing years ago.

"Sheppard, Lorne, I don't know what you're doing, but you'd better slow down and change your angle of approach now or we're all dead."

'What makes Rodney an expert in landings? Aren't we the pilots?'

'We are, but Rodney likes to think he knows everything. I thought you knew that about him.'

Colonels Sheppard and Lorne compensated; John backed off on the power, Evan eased up on the downward pitch. Entry through the atmosphere this time was a lot smoother. The water landing still wasn't to McKay's standard definition of 'kissing'. But they were down; floating on yet another sea of blue.

'You did good, girl.' John praised.

'Rest.'

'Thank you Atlantis.' Evan offered.

The control chair rose up and shut down. John slowly opened his eyes only to be blinded by the bright lights. "Ahhh crap."

Teyla was right there by his side. "Colonel, what is wrong?"

"Bright."

Rodney jumped into action lowering the lighting in the chair room. "They're on low now Sheppard."

Peering out from under his lashes, "thanks Rodney." When John got his bearings he tried to move out of the control chair and found himself frozen in place. "Um…guys…how long have I been in here?"

Rodney turned to his laptop, while Lorne consulted his watch. "Thirty-one hours." The pair said in unison.

"Then that explains it." John stated calmly.

Teyla reached out a comforting hand. "Explains what, John?" Concern etched in her tone.

"Why I can't seem to move and why I'm so damn tired."

"I can relate to that tired part. I slept twelve hours straight and I didn't even do a tenth of what you did. Ronon, you take his left side, I'll get his right. That is if you don't mind Colonel."

John managed a sleepy, "I'm in no position to mind Evan."

oOo

"I should be down on Atlantis. There are still millions of things to get done. I've got Zelenka working…"

"Then why aren't you?" Ronon teased.

Rodney snarled back. "Shouldn't he be awake by now? It's been three days. I haven't even seen him twitch. There's something wrong! I know it. He should never have been in the chair for that long. He could be brain dead or something. Where is the…"

Teyla reached for Rodney placing her two hands gently on his shoulders forcing him from his doomsday thoughts and going after the doctor again. "John is not brain dead. You saw the EEG readings yourself, you know this Rodney. John is fine, just very tired. When was the last time you slept Rodney?"

"Oh…I don't know, last year maybe. There's a lot to do. Radek and I are doing what we can but…"

Ronon sauntered up behind McKay, "the Doc said you could use this bed. Now," Ronon's large hands replaced Teyla's petite ones on McKay's shoulders as he steered his tired teammate to the adjacent bed. "Lie down. Don't make me have to pick you up again."

Ronon's threat rang loud and clear as Rodney scrabbled up on the bed quickly. The last thing he wanted was for Ronon to pick him up. He'd had enough of that when he worked on the DHD of the recharging planet. Lying down he turned on his side facing Sheppard's bed. "You'll wake me if he wakes up?"

"We will, now rest Rodney." Teyla pulled the light cover over him resuming her place in the chair that sat between the two beds. It hadn't taken long for Rodney's breathing to even out and light snores to begin. Teyla and Ronon exchanged a smile before continuing their watch over their friends.

Hours later Teyla heard what she thought was a whimper. Looking to Rodney first she studied him but he was sleeping peacefully. Her caring eyes turned to John and found him restless. On further inspection she could see pain lines etched across his forehead; eyes shut tight, lips pursed as if they were holding back a cry of pain. She had seen this distress on John's face many times. Especially after he was impaled with the Eenov spear. Instinctively she grasped John's hand letting him know he was not alone. "Ronon, get the Doctor please. I believe John is in some kind of distress."

Dr. Gregory, the Apollo's Chief Medical Officer, came into the tiny ward followed by a nurse and Ronon. Checking the monitors, "BP is up, heart rate is up. Colonel Sheppard can you hear me?" Dr. Gregory leaned down to speak into the Colonel's ear.

Another pain filled whimper escaped John. Dr. Gregory ran his hands down John's arms and legs. The muscles were spasming and he thought he felt some knots. "His muscles are spasming; cramping. I'm going to give him a mild muscle relaxant to alleviate his distress. He should be waking up soon."

Teyla nodded her understanding continuing to watch John as the medicine was injected into the IV port on his hand. Soon Teyla could see the relief the medicine offered.

Ronon and Teyla were coming back from dinner. Ronon carried a dinner tray for McKay who hadn't woken yet from his exhaustive state. The nurse was checking John's monitors as she had done several times in the past three days. Ronon set the dinner tray down while Teyla woke Rodney.

Half way through his meal Rodney pointed with his fork. "He moved." Teyla smiled in return and the three of them watched John struggle to wake up. "His eyes are fluttering. That's a good sign, right?"

Expecting his teammates to answer, they all were startled when Dr. Gregory replied. "Indeed it is Dr. McKay." The Doctor examined his patient again by running his hands down the muscles and by checking the monitors of his now waking patient. "Colonel Sheppard, can you hear me? It's time to wake up. Can you open your eyes for me? That's it Colonel, come on, you can do it."

John blinked the blurry blob in to focus. He didn't recognize the man staring back. Looking around John discovered that he must be in a hospital albeit with gun metal colored walls. He didn't remember getting hurt. "Where?" Was all he could manage to croak out, his throat dry as sawdust.

The nurse slipped him an ice chip while the Doctor explained. "You're onboard the Apollo, in her sickbay. I'm Dr. Gregory, the ships doctor. How are you feeling Colonel?"

"Tired, sore."

"Your muscles?"

"Yeah. Why is that? I don't remember hurting this much since Artie worked on my shoulder."

"Because you sat in the control chair for 31 hours straight that's why…you idiot." Rodney affectionately added that last part.

John turned his head in the direction where the familiar voice had come from seeing Teyla and Ronon before spying Rodney sitting on the next bed eating. "Missed you too McKay. Atlantis?"

"She is fine John. You and Colonel Lorne did an excellent job of landing." Teyla told him, whereas McKay just huffed his disapproval by spooning more pudding into his mouth.

"Colonel, we'll work to get your muscles loosened up. But first feel up to eating? You've been asleep for three days now."

"If McKay hasn't eaten it all."

"Oh very funny. Ha. Ha."

oOo

"Well Colonel I think that's the best I can do. I understand you have a physical therapist on Earth so my recommendation to you would be to make an appointment as soon as you get back." Dr. Gregory had been working on John's spasming and cramping muscles ever since he woke up three days ago. Every limb was functioning to the best of their abilities.

"Thanks Doc. I'll call Artie as soon as I get back. Wish I could say I was looking forward to it."

Dr. Gregory laughed, he supposed not. Physical therapy was hard work and sometimes even painful but it was a necessary evil that John had to put up with if he wanted range of motion, not only for his shoulder, but for the rest of him as well. Sitting 31 hours straight not moving was certainly not one of his better decisions. His only concern at the time was for Atlantis and his friends. A little pain on the side was worth knowing they were safe.

And speaking of friends John headed to the bridge of the Apollo. His team—old team had beamed back into the city two days ago. Knowing their friend had awakened and was being taken care of.

"You're looking much better Colonel." Colonel Abe Ellis commented upon seeing Colonel Sheppard walk onto this bridge. The last time he saw him was when he was beamed aboard unconscious. This was a definite improvement.

"Feel much better too. How're things going?"

"The Daedalus is on her way home she left four days ago. We beamed over a few supplies for the trip. Dr. McKay and Dr. Zelenka have performed a miracle so they tell me by getting the City's systems all back up and functioning in two days time. Colonel Lorne and the other ATA carriers who worked in the chair bringing the systems up seemed to have fallen from his grace."

"That sounds like the McKay we all know and hate but wouldn't want anyone else by your side in a crisis. You know his ego, he'll take the credit now but give credit where it's due."

"I just don't know how you put up with him." Col. Ellis stated shaking his head.

Colonel Sheppard knew it was a rhetorical statement. It would take days to try to explain McKay. Col. Ellis neither wanted to know nor had the time. Ellis's first meeting with the arrogant scientist had soured him on McKay's true potential. Nothing that John could say now would ever change Ellis's mind.

"I'm ready to beam down anytime. Are you sticking around for a few days?"

"Actually, no. I'm going to make a pass by M35-117 but the Apollo needs to get back to the Milky Way to continue the search for the Odyssey. General O'Neill pulled us off just to get you here. Colonel Lorne seems to think he and his men can handle anything that pops up here."

"I'm sure they can. Well, thanks for the lift Colonel. I won't keep you any longer." John moved off into the beaming down area of the bridge, picking up his borrowed black duffle he'd dropped on the floor and slung over his shoulder. A white light engulfed him depositing him on the gate room floor. Smiling he took a look around; Atlantis's gate room was breathtakingly beautiful with the sunlight coming through the windows. He'd forgotten just how beautiful his home here was.

oOo

There really hadn't been time for pleasantries when Colonel Sheppard arrived eight days ago and there still wasn't now. Not five minutes after he beamed into the city McKay summoned him to the chair room to run a full diagnostic. One of the gate room Marines took the Colonel's duffle while John headed to the chair room.

"…doing it all wrong. You need to run a test on each system." McKay looked up from his laptop seeing Colonel Sheppard standing in the doorway. "About time you got here. I need you in the chair. I'm not getting anywhere with him."

Colonel Lorne sat up in the chair ready with his acerbic jab on the tip of his tongue regarding his competence with the Ancient chair when he noticed who McKay was talking to. Getting out of the chair he met Colonel Sheppard half way.

Sheppard was already holding out his hand in greeting. "Congratulations on your promotion Colonel Lorne. I couldn't think of a better person for the job."

"Thank you, Sir. General O'Neill said pretty much the same thing. I just don't like how I got it. Thanks for saving our butts."

"You earned the promotion Evan, don't sell yourself short. And you should be thanking O'Neill. It was his 'gut' feeling that something was wrong that had him coming to me for help. All I did was sit in the chair."

"Which is where your butt needs to be right now if we're ever going to get this diagnostic completed sometime this century. It's not like I don't have other important stuff that needs my brilliance you know."

John and Evan both shouted out their response, "we know" in unison.

"Very funny. Now could we get some work done?"

"Hold your shirt on McKay we're coming. Okay Evan take a seat. After you make your connection with Atlantis I'll place my hand on your arm. I'll guide you on how to do a full diagnostic to McKay's satisfaction."

"Really Sir you should do it."

"I won't be here to do them Evan. That's your job now." John reminded the new Colonel. "So let's get started."

Evan moved back to the chair and sat down, "Yes Sir."

"You don't have to 'Sir' me. We're both Colonels. Heck I call you Evan, so John or Sheppard will do."

"Yes Sir." Lorne smiled wide, he couldn't help it.

Colonel Sheppard walked Colonel Lorne through the diagnostic process step-by-step. Dr. McKay watched on the overhead monitor and to both the Colonels surprise hadn't said a discouraging word. And more to their surprise when the Doctor actually managed to squeak out a complimentary "good job" when they finished.

Laughing could be heard two levels away from the mess hall. Colonel Sheppard found himself the center of attention. Everyone who had stayed behind for the past five months at one time or another stopped by to say 'hi', 'nice to see ya', 'you've been missed', 'how are you', 'what are you doing', 'who won the super bowl' and a myriad of other affectionate sentiments. As the expedition members thinned out John was left with just his old teammates sitting around the mess hall table. Colonel Lorne had been called away on a security matter with a promise to come back as soon as he was able.

John's face hurt from all the smiling and laughing he'd done over the past several hours. It was good to catch up on all Atlantis related missions. Ronon told the story of how he had to physically carry McKay to bed. Teyla told of Torren's first attempt at saying Rodney's name. It came out more like 'on-ney'. Lorne told him about his struggle to get McKay to call him Colonel instead of Major. Rodney told him about the recharging drawer. Many stories flowed around the small table. It was late when they all said goodnight and John realized he had no idea where his duffle bag had been taken. Ronon, Teyla and Rodney walked him to his old room.

Stepping inside was like stepping back in time. The room looked the same, yet different. Many of his belongings he told Rodney to share with the base were still there, where he had kept them.

"Rodney I thought I told you to share this stuff." John said moving over to the golf bag in the corner.

"I did give a few things away when Woolsey instituted a three day no work policy at Christmas. Teyla invited us all over to her place on New Athos. You gave Woolsey your MP3 player for Christmas. You gave Ronon your guitar and Teyla has your War and Peace book. Lorne got your comic book collection. You gave Torren your race car for Christmas although Teyla's going to hold on to that until he's a bit older. It was a very nice Christmas as Christmases go."

During Rodney's recital his friends took to the bed, chairs or floor it didn't look like they were ready to call it a night. John sat down on the bed next to Teyla.

"What about you Rodney? You've told me what everyone else received. What did I give you for Christmas? You don't seem like the golf club type to me."

Rodney blanched at the inquiry for a few seconds before his cheeks flushed pink with embarrassment. Rodney wasn't able to make eye contact with John or his teammates for that matter. He kept his head tilted down and his gaze on his hands which were being twisted this way and that; a habit built from nervousness and a lifetime of using his hands to express his thoughts when words failed.

"Oh…ah…it was nothing really." Rodney mumbled his reply so softly that John could barely make it out. Rodney continued to look down at his hands.

John was just about to push the issue when he caught sight of something under Rodney's jacket sleeve.

Teyla saw Rodney's hesitancy and changed the subject. "John, are you happy? Truly happy."

"Yeah Teyla I am. I didn't think I would be, but I am. I always thought that flying was all I had, all I was."

"You are so much more than that John. You always have been. It is nice to know that you finally realized that." Teyla expressed lovingly. "Has your shoulder healed satisfactorily?"

"That took a while. Dr. Lam found a specialist in Richmond and set up an appointment. For the first three months I saw Artie everyday for three hours. When the pain abated I was down to three days a week. By March, I was good as I was going to get. It's a little sore now, but I'll go see Artie when I get home. It's just not good enough to come back."

"So you work for your brother." Ronon stated from his spot on the floor.

"Started a few months ago. I decide whether or not my brother's company should enter into a partnership with another company."

"Never thought of you as a pent-house, corner office with leather seating, wet bar, large desk complete with secretary type of guy."

John snorted at McKay's corporate ideals. "You're describing my brother's office not mine. I work on the eighth floor in a glass cubical along with fifteen or so other people doing the same job as me. I do have a secretary though. Now my brother's office is on the twelfth floor, corner office as you described. Has all the wood and leather furniture you'd expect for an executive office. It probably was my dad's office come to think of it."

"You and him…get along okay?" Rodney knew from the couple of times John had gone off to see his brother, while Atlantis was stuck on Earth, those visits hadn't turned out all that well.

"We get along just like two brothers should. We've talked…not about this of course, more about dad and the past. We've put a lot of stuff behind us. And we're looking ahead too. Dave wants me to stay at the house."

"You don't?"

"I don't know yet Rodney. I'm afraid I might screw something up. What Dave and I have right now is great. Atlantis was my home for over five years. You guys my only family. Now I have a home on Earth with Dave being my family. In all my years I never thought I'd have that. It's a bit scary and I don't want to mess it up."

The mood shifted and everyone in the room felt it. Hearing John admit he was scared about the future was preposterous. John never let uncertainty stop him before and deep down Rodney, Ronon and Teyla knew John would handle whatever the future bought.

"So you seein' anyone?"

"No. Are you?" John shot back to Ronon.

Ronon shrugged his shoulder and grinned. Teyla was thoughtful enough to answer for him. "He and Amelia have become quite inseparable as of late."

"I want invited to the wedding."

oOo

"…continue Colonel."

"I woke up in the Apollo's sickbay. McKay, Teyla and Ronon were there. I was informed by Dr. Gregory, the ship's doctor, that I'd been out cold for three days from exhaustion. My muscles had what he called spasticity; basically they spasmed badly from sitting 31 hours straight in the control chair. I was in sickbay for three more days while Dr. Gregory and his staff worked on loosening up my tight muscles. My left shoulder, as you know, had problems before the mission. Dr. Gregory said to have my physical therapist work it when I got back home. He wasn't qualified but he managed to loosen it up enough that it doesn't hurt that bad." John stopped his mission briefing to take a drink of water. The recycled air in the mountain twenty-six levels down left a lot to be desired and his mouth was dry. John was glad he didn't have to work here, he loved Atlantis a lot more.

"After I was back on my feet, Col. Ellis beamed me back to Atlantis. McKay and the others had already beamed back two days before. McKay had finished powering up the final secondary systems. He, Dr. Zelenka and the other scientists who remained had the city back to normal. Lights were on, water worked, transporters back on-line, the works. Colonel Lorne had taken three teams to scout the mainland via jumpers. Indigenous animals are plentiful, flora abundant, a couple mountain ranges, a desert and fresh water were all found on the mainland. I believe Col. Lorne indicated all this in his report. McKay wanted to retrieve the ZPM from R9G-711 so I could bring it back with me. He doesn't want to wait on the Daedalus to bring everyone back. With Mr. Woolsey's permission I accompanied Lorne's team there and back. Colonel Ellis and the Apollo headed back to Earth with a stop over. He wanted to check the status of the seven Replicator ships. Col. Ellis did report back to Atlantis. I was not privy to what he discovered before he jumped into hyper space." Drinking the last of his water down John finished up his debriefing. "I assisted Colonel Lorne in running a full diagnostic on Atlantis from the chair room and instructed Col. Lorne on how to deal with Atlantis in the future. And that's it. I came through the gate…six hours ago it would seem. Is there anything else that you wanted to know?"

"No Sheppard, I think that's enough. I would like you to write up what you've just told us however." General Jack O'Neill concluded.

"I figured as much Sir."

"I'll arrange transport for you back to Virginia…say tomorrow afternoon if that works for you."

"I ah…I was going to talk to you about that General."

"Oh…"

"I was wondering if I could stick around until you send the expedition members back. I'd like to see this through to the end."

"I don't see why not. As soon as the Zed thingy gets plugged in and the last of the expedition members get here I'm sending the whole crazy bunch of them through the gate."

"Thank you, Sir. I'll get started on that report."

oOo

Sergeant Siler entered the control room with three fingers bandaged in white. "Ready General."

Jack saw the bandaged fingers right away. The white bandages acting like a neon sign. "Do I want to ask Sergeant."

"No Sir." Siler replied with a smile.

"Okay Walter dial Atlantis. Let's get these people home."

"Yes Sir." Master Chief Harriman began the dial sequence for Atlantis. The gate rotated and locked each chevron into place.

John Sheppard having turned his official report into the General two days ago now stood side-by-side watching the gate dial.

With all the Atlantis team members arriving back at the mountain over the past few days, John had made himself useful. As they arrived he checked them off the mission roster before assigning them duties. He filled requisitions, mapped out embarkation stations, instructed personnel on what, where, how and who was responsible for what supplies went through the gate. And finally, praised them for the work they've done and wished them all well.

Dr. Addleman and Dr. Keller managed to corner him for about two hours. Each doctor took their turn checking him over while asking a million questions. Dr. Addleman ran John through a few exercises to keep his shoulder from locking up.

Over the past few days General O'Neill stood back and watched Sheppard work. Sheppard didn't have to do anything since he was technically a civilian. However it was amazing what the Colonel could get accomplished in such little time. His organization of the returning Atlantis members and of the supplies being shipped was something to behold. The Atlantis people followed his directions to the letter.

Now with the gate almost done dialing, Jack could see Atlantis Marines preparing the first sleds of supplies. Contact was made with Atlantis, verifications exchanged. They had 38 minutes to get as many people and supplies through the gate before it shut down and they had to dial back.

"Do you want the honors?" Jack looked over to Colonel Sheppard.

With a smile John nodded. Leaning down to the console he pressed the button for the intercom. "Atlantis Expedition, move out."

What should have taken two 38 minute windows, took one. Colonel Sheppard had placed supplies in three zones. Assigned the appropriate number of team members to those zones. Established a sequence that allowed an orderly flow of personnel and supplies through the gate. The deployment from Earth back to the Pegasus Galaxy and to Atlantis went off without a hitch.

oOo

Sheppard looked around the crew quarter he had been assigned to for the last few days since coming back through the stargate. Everything seemed to be in order. Master Chief Harriman had advised him to leave the gear that General O'Neill requisitioned for him in the room and he'd take care of it. Closing the door he made his way to O'Neill's office to say his goodbyes.

"Sheppard! All set are we?"

"Yes Sir."

"Your transport leaves at fourteen hundred to take you to the airport. You'll be home by dinner."

"Yes Sir. If you need help…"

"I know where to find you. Walter, you got that thing I asked for?"

John Sheppard hesitated he had one more favor he wanted to ask the General. As soon as the Master Chief left the room John gathered his courage. "Sir, I was wondering if I could …"

"Here you go Sheppard. Have your brother sign it and mail it back to me." General O'Neill handed over a rather large plain brown envelope.

"How did you…?"

"I'm a General. We have our ways. Now get going or you'll miss your plane."

"Yes Sir."

oOo

John Sheppard took a cab from the airport to his home in Richmond Virginia. He snorted when he heard himself say 'his home'. When had he stopped thinking of it as David Sheppard's house and began thinking of it as his house? Standing outside on the driveway John gave the grand old house a good looking over. He paid the cabbie and watched as it disappeared down the long driveway.

Memories of a happier time as a child and the sadder time of losing his mother fluttered through his mind. The numerous fights he had with his father over school, the business or his choice of career were now distant memories. Cataloged, embraced and put where they belonged—in the past. John's arguments with Dave in the last three years seemed petty in comparison.

John was making a new future for himself. A future that now included his brother. A future based on mutual trust.

John found a home on Atlantis without really looking for one. He found friends and a family on Atlantis when his whole life was spent keeping people at arms length. Now John was standing outside another home. A house that David said felt more like a home since the day he arrived. He was lucky to have friends who cared about him, a home and now another place to call home and a brother who he called his family now.

Armed with a non-disclosure agreement it was time that John told his brother what he'd been doing. Building trust went a long way to rebuilding a friendship he'd thought he lost years ago at age eighteen.

Taking a step towards the oak door John was leaving one home behind while he took another step forward to the new home in front of him. Before he reached the door it swung open. Dave stood there with a broad smile on his face.

John returned the smile saying,

"I'm home."

The End

Author's Note: A personal 'Thank-you' to each and every one of you worldwide who read my story. And thank you for your comments too. They are much appreciated.

Karen