Disclaimer: This is fan fiction, don't own Atlantis, wish I did!
Feedback: This is my first Atlantis fan fiction, be nice!
A/N: This is from Dave's perspective. John/Teyla wishful shipping, and some Torren fluff thrown in for good measure.
Ratings and Warnings: K+ for a swear word or two.
Thank you to T'Pring who let me take Julia out to play, if only for a short while!
David Sheppard walked into the house and tossed his suit coat onto a nearby chair. It had been a long day and he was looking forward to putting his feet up and downing a cold beer. The beer was in his hand, but the feet weren't quite in the position he wanted them, when the phone rang.
"Damn! I need a secretary here, too, just for screening my calls."
He thought about not answering it, but it could be Julia and talking to her was actually quite therapeutic most of the time. So he grabbed the cordless phone and clicked it on as he lowered himself into a comfortable chair.
"Hey, Dave, it's John," came the familiar voice on the other end of the phone. Dave paused when he heard the voice, not quite sure he was hearing what he thought he was hearing. "Your brother," the voice continued.
"I know who it is," Dave answered impatiently, "I was just surprised to hear your voice on the phone. Are you back in the States or are you making an incredibly expensive overseas call?"
Dave heard a small chuckle on the other end. "No, I'm in the States, San Francisco, actually. Figured while I was here, I'd give you my 'I'm still alive' update in person."
John made fun of him, but ever since their father had died, Dave had been a bit overzealous and curious about John's well being. The two brothers had been e-mailing back and forth fairly often. At first, mostly to discuss provisions in the will. Their father had left Dave with controlling interest in the business, several of the houses and a good deal of the money. But he had also left quite a bit to John as well. John hadn't expected it and said he had no interest in any of it, but Dave insisted.
He knew he had seemed quite greedy at the wake, wondering if John was going to contest the will, but he was mostly concerned about the business. Dave had worked hard alongside their father to make sure the company was thriving. He didn't want John coming along and deciding he was going to walk in and change things. He needn't have feared. His flyboy brother was perfectly happy to stay in the Air Force doing whatever it was that he did. And Dave was content with that.
But a few days after the funeral, John had shown up at his house and Dave had let him in to talk. The conversation had been somewhat stilted at first. It was mostly John assuring Dave he had all he needed and wasn't interested in anything their father had left. Dave was okay keeping things fairly impersonal until he noticed that John was holding himself somewhat stiffly. And he would wince every now and then when he moved. That's when he noticed the bruises on John's neck that looked suspiciously like a hand print. John had shrugged it off and said he was fine; he had just gotten bounced around a bit with what he was working on. He had given Dave no more information and tried to change the subject.
But it got Dave thinking that maybe John did a bit more than he thought he did. He had always laughed off or made fun of the 'Top Secret', 'National Security' stuff. But seeing the injuries his brother had obviously sustained on the job made him wonder what his little brother was really into. And after losing their father, he realized that maybe he could lose his brother as well. They may not have been close the last few years, heck since John had joined the Air Force, but he was still his brother, and he still cared about him. And he certainly didn't want to lose him, too.
That fear was what had made Dave keep in closer contact with John. He had actually talked his brother into using the laptop webcam to send video messages. That way Dave could actually see that John was fine. John had humored him and would try and send a short video every three or four weeks. Mostly it was less than a minute with John popping on the screen assuring Dave he was fine. Occasionally it was a bit longer with John responding to the few questions Dave always asked when he sent his own video message. Dave had gotten used to the e-mails arriving every month and really kind of liked seeing John, if only on screen.
There was always something to amuse Dave. Sometimes it was John wearing the koala T-shirt he had gotten in college or something in the background. Dave could tell John's quarters were nicer than what he would have imagined in some Middle Eastern dessert. If that indeed was where he was stationed. Not that he could see very much of them. There was a simple utilitarian bed and dresser and the ever-present poster of Johnny Cash hanging behind it. That poster always made Dave chuckle. John had had a similar poster hanging in his bedroom as a teenager. And of course, the guitar, golf clubs and skateboard that were scattered around the bed made it seem like John hadn't grown up at all.
But he still got nervous when too much time went by without a message, especially since the time a little over a year ago. It had been more than a month without any word whatsoever from John. He still remembered the relief he felt when he checked his e-mail and there waiting for him was a message from his brother.
His relief was short lived when he saw the image come up on the screen. John's face had scratches and cuts covering a good portion, as well as several bruises in vivid Technicolor. He appeared to be in scrubs and lying in a bed, not in his room though. He had his face pretty close to the screen and his eyes kept darting to the left and he looked a little nervous.
"Hey, Dave, sorry it took a while since I last checked in, it's been a bit crazy here. But, I'm fine!"
A soft voice came from somewhere to John's right. "I do not believe that Jennifer would agree with your diagnosis of 'fine'."
John turned to his right, wincing a bit as he did so. He made a face and reiterated, "I'm fine!"
John had barely looked back at the camera to repeat, yet again, more reassuringly this time, "I'm fine!" when another female voice came from his left.
This one was a bit stronger and lower pitched than the first.
"Colonel!" The voice was not happy.
John's eyes darted back to the left and he muttered, "Shit!"
His eyes rolled up as the voice continued, "Did I not just tell you 20 minutes ago that you need to rest?"
"I told you that you would get caught, John." scolded the amused voice on the right.
After making another face in that direction, he looked back at the video screen and said quickly, "I gotta go. I'm fine!"
He was just moving his hands to cut the connection when the screen pulled back and away from him. He leaned forward to try and reach it but a flash of pain cut across his face and he collapsed back against the pillow with his eyes closed tight.
From further away Dave could see that John was in what appeared to be a hospital bed and his arms were as abused as his face. He also had an IV hanging down next to him connected to his arm.
"Did McKay smuggle this into you?" the stern voice demanded. "Because if he did, he is gonna be in so much trouble."
At this, John actually smirked and let out a small chuckle, then moved his hand to his mid-section and another grimace rolled across his face.
John again tried to reach for the computer screen in front of him when the voice snapped back, "It took me almost four hours to sew everything back into place. If you break those stitches, I swear I'll put you in a medically induced coma for a month!"
Dave saw real fear come into John's face for the briefest of seconds before his face changed and a smile rose on his lips. Dave knew that smile, remembered it well. It was the smile he had always used on the housekeeper whenever he wanted something he probably shouldn't have.
The smile widened and his eyes gleamed. "Oh, come on, Doc, I was just taping a message to my brother." John shrugged. "He worries when I don't check in and it's been a while." He pointed at the screen and continued, "It's still taping. Let me just shut it off. I'll get McKay to cut this last bit out and then he can even send it for me."
"If only I could trust you."
John smiled up, oozing charm at the mysterious doctor holding the laptop. He nodded his head.
The Doc offered slowly, "Four full days… of you… in this bed…no work… and NO escape attempts! Remember these words Colonel: Medically induced coma!"
A soft, feminine chuckle came from John's right. He looked over with exasperation on his face and in his voice. "You think this is funny, don't you?"
A small sound, like the coo of an infant, drifted from the same direction. "Torren thinks it is quite humorous as well."
"You know, Doc, "John's voice squeaked on the last word, "there's a lot of stuff that needs to be done around here."
The doctor replied, "Major Lorne did a fine job taking over for you when you were missing those two weeks. I think he can manage for another few days."
"Doc!" John pointed out; "Lorne's got a broken leg and a concussion."
"A mild concussion and he's still in better shape than you are. So, what's it gonna be?"
John gritted his teeth and took a deep breath. "Fine! Four days and I promise to be a good boy."
The quiet chuckle from the right had John glancing in that direction again with a warning in his voice, "Teyla!"
"Jennifer, you know that you can not trust him to keep that promise."
"I know," the doctor said with resignation. "But I figure if he promises four, I might actually get two."
John closed his eyes and smirked with a slight shake of his head.
The computer screen got closer again and the doctor said, "Okay, Colonel, shut it off."
John reached forward to hit a few keys and looked up at the doctor again. "Get McKay down here to fix…" and then the signal was gone and the file had ended.
Apparently this McKay guy had neglected to edit the video before he sent it. Dave was actually glad he got the see the whole thing. The two women may have been chastising his brother, but you could hear the genuine caring in their tone when they spoke. The doctor was concerned for his health, but the other one, Teyla, even though she was teasing him, you could still hear the warmth and affection she obviously had for John in the way she spoke to him and said his name.
John would never have told him about being injured and he certainly would never have known about John being missing for two weeks. The thought terrified him. Oh, God John what are you doing? He had lost his father just months before this incident and he'd had nightmares that he would lose John, too. Maybe that was why he'd been so insistent about the video e-mails.
Dave shook off the memories and spoke into the phone again. "How long are you there for? Can you get away for a while?"
"I'll be here for a couple of weeks, maybe longer." John replied. "Things are a bit up in the air at the moment. But I probably need to stick close."
Dave knew better than to ask John why he was in San Francisco, so instead he mentally flipped through his calendar and said, "I might be able to rearrange a few things and schedule a business trip out to that area by late next week. Could you get away long enough to meet for lunch one day?"
"Yeah!" John came back enthusiastically. "You'd come here? That'd be great!"
Dave hated the fact that John sounded so surprised that he would actually rearrange his schedule for him. He hadn't seen John in person since the few days after their dad's funeral. And that had been a year and a half ago. He smiled, realizing that he was looking forward to seeing him again.
John gave Dave a cell number where he could reach him for the next few weeks and they said good bye with Dave promising to get back to him as soon as he had his business trip to San Francisco planned.
As Dave hung up the phone he remembered the unedited video John's friend McKay had sent. He hoped John's extended stay in San Francisco wasn't the result of some other horrible injury and that he would find his brother safe and whole.
Dave stood waiting near the entrance of the restaurant that John had suggested. It was a sunny, warm day so Dave didn't mind and it was still a few minutes before John would be considered late. He looked down at his watch again and worried anyway. He had just talked to John a few days ago to set this meeting up and John has assured him that he could get away. He was about to pull out his cell phone to call his brother when a taxi pulled up and John stepped out onto the curb.
Dave eyed John from head to toe. He had on jeans, a red polo shirt and a denim jacket. There were no bandages, no cuts, no bruises, no casts or any other sign of injury that Dave could see. Relief washed over him as he stepped toward his brother and greeted, "John, good to see you!"
John shook his hand, gave him a crooked grin. "Dave."
Dave continued, "Glad you could make it."
"Did you think I wouldn't? Especially after you came all this way to see me?"
They both looked at each other, the old awkward feeling coming back. David had hoped that maybe the video messages would make them feel more comfortable with each other. Apparently it would take more time. Dave gave a big sigh and put his hand out to indicate that John should precede him into the restaurant. Since it was such a nice day they decided to eat outside near the sidewalk. As they looked at the menus, Dave took the opportunity to study John.
He looked tired, and worn out. John had always been full of life and mischief, but he could see his brother's lifestyle was starting to take its toll on him. Dave felt saddened by this. John had always been a man of action. Even as a child, John had spent most of his time at the top of every tree or climbing the highest rock or riding the fastest horse. No matter how many people told him it was too dangerous, John never cared. It never mattered how many times he fell or got hurt or even broke something, he'd dust himself off and be back at the top of the tree as soon as he could.
Because of this lackadaisical attitude, John had a habit of injuring himself. It hadn't gotten any better when he had gotten older. He just found different things to do. Surfing, skateboarding, rock climbing, skiing and then, of course, had come flying. Thinking back to the unedited video, Dave realized it still hadn't changed. The way the two women, Doctor Jennifer and Teyla, had talked, it sounded like John spent a good deal of time in the infirmary and even more time trying to escape from it. A small smile came to Dave's lips at the thought.
John looked up just as the smile appeared and questioned, "Dave?"
"I was just thinking about the video e-mail from last year when you were trying to escape from the infirmary." Dave told him.
John's eyes narrowed and grew concerned. "What did you see? Someone was supposed to edit most of it and just send you the 'I'm fine' part. What else was on there?"
Dave chuckled and told him that he had seen everything from John's first 'I'm fine' to the doctor finally allowing him to turn off the computer.
John's face got tight and through clenched teeth Dave heard him say what sounded like "McKay!"
Dave reached over and brought John's attention back to him. "John, why didn't you tell me you were badly injured then? Or that you were missing for two weeks? I know I can't ask what happened, you'd never tell me anyway, but don't feel you have to hide your injuries from me."
John took a breath and looked down at Dave's hand still on his arm. "I just didn't want you to worry. I knew I was gonna be all right so I figured why get you upset. And I always knew where I was, so I never really thought of myself as missing. You have been a bit intense about hearing from me lately."
Dave looked at his menu, folded it and then placed it carefully on the table. "John, I hadn't seen or heard from you in over five years when Dad died. After our conversation a few days after the funeral, I really didn't want to go that long without talking with you again or knowing if you were alive and okay."
The waitress took that opportunity to come over and take their orders. After she left, John looked down at his hands that were clenched together.
"Dave," he cleared his throat. "I, uh, I'm really sorry you were left dealing with everything by yourself when Dad died. I wish I'd known. I actually thought about coming back a few times, but honestly I didn't think Dad would even see me."
"He would have. At least in the last few years. When that thing in Afghanistan happened and you got sent to Antarctica, he was pretty upset and figured 'typical John' but..."
John interrupted with questioning eyes, "Wait, how…?"
"Remember Dad had that old college buddy who was a General in the Army. Well, he would call him every now and then to get information on you."
"Of course he would." John said disgustedly.
"No, John, it's not what you think." Dave defended. "Dad loved you. No matter what you did, you were still his son. He hated what you did with your life, but that never took away from the fact that he loved you. He kept tabs on you to make sure you were okay. When you were promoted to Lt. Colonel, Dad was so proud. He told everyone in the office. Of course it drove him mad that he didn't know what you had done to deserve the promotion. He kept asking the General, but apparently even he couldn't get any information on what you were doing."
John's face was impassive and his eyes stayed lowered as Dave spoke.
Dave continued, "That's kind of when Dad really started regretting what had happened between you two. He figured if a General couldn't get information on you, then you were probably into something very big and probably very dangerous. Pilots who shuttle people around in helicopters don't usually get to be Lt. Colonel for doing that."
Dave tried to read John's face while he was telling him all this. John had always tried to keep his feelings hidden. Heck, Dave was a master at it himself. They had learned from the best. Patrick Sheppard had always taught them to show no weakness. John's problem was that his face might be indifferent but his eyes always gave him away.
As Dave looked at John's green eyes, so like their fathers, he saw pain, sorrow and uncertainty. And regret, lots of regret. He had seen enough of it in their father's eyes in the last few years of his life. The same regret he now saw mirrored in his brother's eyes.
He had tried to talk his father into contacting John to try and talk things out. But Patrick Sheppard was nothing, if not proud. Too damned proud for his own good. The same pride that had apparently kept John from coming home to a place he no longer felt welcome. But their father had thought he'd had plenty of time to make amends with his son. The night he'd died, David saw regret magnified a hundred times when he realized that it was the end for him and time had run out. Dave wasn't sure, but he thought he heard John's name come out of his father's lips right before he'd passed out. He'd never regained consciousness and had died shortly after arriving at the hospital. Dave didn't know if he should mention that little fact to John, but those eyes were already filled with self-condemnation and he just couldn't add any more pain to them.
Dave felt the guilt start to rise inside him. He knew Dad had felt bad about the rift between himself and his youngest son. Dave could easily have sent word to John. It might have taken a while and possibly a few attempts, but he could have pushed the two of them together to at least talk and perhaps start to heal. Especially once their dad had started to realize he might have been a bit hard on John.
But Dave hadn't and he now began to realize that he had been selfish and egotistical. He had been the one to follow Dad's orders exactly. He had trained and worked to take over the business. He had given up much in his life to be the man his father wanted him to be. Why should he do all the work just to have John come back in, like the Prodigal Son, and claim their father's affections and possibly his money.
Dave had been the golden boy, the son who could do no wrong. He thought John had been irresponsible and hadn't deserved any of the respect that Dave had earned from their father. He now realized that he'd gotten all the acknowledgments, but at the expense of his little brother. A knot of shame settled in his stomach.
He couldn't undo what he'd done, but maybe he could try and repair the rift and renew the good relationship he and John had known as kids. He looked at his brother and said, "How've you been John?"
John got a twinkle in his eye and laughed, "There's no IV attached and nothing's broken, so I'd say it's a good day!"
John's smile got larger. "How've you been? Business been good?"
"Yeah, pretty good. But then you know how efficiently Dad ran the business. He could have left it in the care of a monkey and it would have taken years to fall apart."
"Bet I could have done it in six months." John grinned, then added sedately, "How are you dealing with Dad not being around? You okay?"
"Yeah, pretty much." Dave replied. "I still miss him though. But, Julia makes it bearable."
John's eyebrows went up. "Julia?"
Dave actually blushed slightly. "Yeah, I was going to tell you about her soon. She's become pretty important in my life. "
John looked intrigued, "So tell me about her now. Is she hot?"
Dave's lips twitched as he began. "I think so. She's a corporate attorney who's actually run her own company for years. She's been really helpful in dealing with much of the transitions after Dad died. We started dating a little over a year ago and have been pretty much inseparable since then."
John looked interested, "You serious about her?"
"Yeah," Dave confirmed. "We've actually started talking about marriage."
"Marriage, huh? I guess it's about time." John joked. "You're older than me and I've already done it once."
At Dave's incredulous look, John added, "I never said I did it well. We both know I was pretty much a dismal failure at being a husband."
"You just failed," David pointed out, "because you had too many secrets from Nancy. Isn't there anyone you work with, who already knows all your secrets, that interests you?"
John replied, "It's a Research and Development facility, the people that aren't military, are scientists. The military are off limits and believe me, the scientists are not my type."
Dave looked like he'd been given a prize. "Research facility, huh?"
John rolled his eyes and shrugged, "Forget I said that, okay?"
"Because it's a research facility, are the military protocols a bit looser?" Dave inquired. "I noticed your hair's a bit longer and those sideburns are definitely not regulation."
John grinned. "The place is run by a civilian oversight advisory. They have plenty of rules and regulations, but hair isn't really something they worry too much about."
"What about your military CO?"
John's eyes sparkled. "The Military Commander? He's a pretty decent guy. He likes my hair this way."
Dave looked doubtful. "Right."
Any further questions were interrupted by the waitress bringing their food. John took a huge bite of his hamburger then asked Dave more questions about Julia.
Dave knew John was changing the subject away from himself, but he figured Julia would be family soon enough. He had a right to know about his prospective sister-in-law.
John kept the conversation directed at Dave throughout the meal. Dave knew this tactic, but allowed him to continue. He figured John couldn't talk much about his work. This way he didn't look too bad by refusing to answer Dave's questions.
Dave had just pushed his plate away and leaned back when he heard a small, excited voice yell what sounded like, "Unta Dohn!"
He and John both looked at the same time toward the voice. Dave was surprised when he saw a toddler pushing open the gate near their table and walking into the café area.
John's eyes went wide and scared as he uttered, "T.J.?"
The toddler waddled toward John as quickly as he could on his little, chubby legs. John scooped him up and immediately began looking out on the street saying, "Buddy, how'd you get here? Where's your Mom?"
David couldn't believe that John actually knew this child. Where had he come from? John put his hand up and waved as he called out "Teyla!"
Out on the street, an exotic looking woman with caramel colored skin and chestnut hair came running toward them. She slipped through the gate with relief etched on her face.
"Thank goodness he is unharmed. I could not believe that he pulled away from me and ran off. Now I see why he did." She looked at the child and gave a huge sigh as she touched the boy's head.
John looked at the woman with concern in his eyes. And something else Dave couldn't quite put his finger on. Then what John said made a connection. Teyla. He had called her Teyla. That was the name of the soft voiced woman from the unedited video e-mail. The one who'd teased him and spoke to John with such warmth and affection.
His gaze quickly moved back to John who was standing the child up in his lap and saying in a caring but stern tone, "Hey, Pal, you can't do that. You can't run away from your Mom. You understand me?"
The child pouted slightly and mumbled something like, "Unta Dohn, torwy?"
John apparently understood Toddler better than Dave would have guessed because he shook his head and replied, "Yeah, I can read you a story, but not right now. And I'm certainly not gonna read you one if you worry your Mom like that again." John leaned his forehead right up against the boy's and finished, "Ok, Buddy?"
The child nodded his head and then did the most amazing thing. Or at least to Dave it was amazing. The little boy wrapped his arms around John's neck and put his head on John's shoulder. Even more amazing was how John fit his hands gently around the boy to keep him safely in place as if he'd done it a million times.
John then looked up at the child's mother and touched her elbow. "You okay, Teyla?'
"Yes," she answered. "I will be, once my heart begins to beat again."
Then John looked down at the boy and smiled. And his eyes, the ones that gave him away every time, were communicating loud and clear that this kid meant something to him. Something special.
Dave thought he might have forgotten to breathe for a few seconds, so baffled was he by the unexpected sight. He then remembered the child's mother and looked up at her.
John realized where Dave was gazing and seemed to remember his manners.
"Uh…Teyla, this is Dave, my brother. Dave this is Teyla Emmagen and her son, Torren."
Dave remembered his own manners, stood and extended a hand. "It's nice to meet you, Teyla."
Teyla gripped his hand firmly and replied, "It is an honor to meet you, Dave Sheppard."
Just then two more women, loaded down with heavy shopping bags, appeared on the other side of the gate. They looked worried until they saw John holding the toddler.
Teyla looked at the women and stated, "I found him."
"Colonel, why am I not surprised he pulled away from Teyla to come see you."
"Doc," John acknowledged and Dave realized it was the voice of the other woman on the video. John then nodded at the third woman who was with them. "Banks."
The woman named Banks seemed to square her shoulders back and stand a little taller as she responded, "Sir."
Okay this one has to be military, Dave thought judging by the response, and was proven right when his brother instructed, "At ease, Banks. I'm off duty."
John seemed to remember his manners a little quicker this time.
"Ladies, my brother Dave Sheppard. Dave, Amelia Banks, "he said pointing to the military one.
"And Jennifer Keller." He introduced as he indicated the other.
They both moved through the gate to stand near John and Dave's table. John took a look at the amount of bags they were carrying and whistled, "You got quite the shopping spree going there, huh, Doc?"
"Oh, this isn't all mine." Jennifer clarified. "Quite a bit is Teyla's."
John feigned terror. "Tell me you didn't corrupt her?"
"She found the best bargains, though. She got more for her dollar than both of us combined." The doctor proclaimed.
Teyla's eyes shone with wonder. "This is the most incredible city! The marketplaces here have such a vast supply of goods. I have traded in many villages, but none such as this!"
"Well I'm glad you like it and you got my money's worth. Just don't get too used to it." He turned toward Amelia and stated, "If she gets addicted to this, Banks, you're pulling night duty for a month."
Banks nodded her head solemnly and replied in a crisp voice, "Understood, Sir."
Jennifer then piped up, "Are you hungry? I could really use a break."
Amelia nodded and Teyla also agreed, "I am indeed famished. I did not realize this…shopping… could be so tiresome."
"It helps if you're not dragging a 14 month old around with you." Jennifer added.
Amelia started to move toward the restaurant saying, "I'll see if we can get a table?"
The lunch crowd had started to dwindle at this time so after a nod and a 'nice to meet you' at Dave they were guided to a table a few away from Dave and John's.
Before Teyla left, she held her hands out for her son. John just shook her off and ordered, "Go, eat lunch in peace! I've got him."
Teyla started to protest but John waved her away. "Look, someone's got to eat the rest of my french fries." He indicated Torren who was already holding a fry in each hand and had one sticking out of his mouth. John chuckled and pulled the one dangling from his mouth and sweetly chastised, "One at a time, buddy. Here, let me show you the best way to eat these things."
As John reached for the ketchup bottle, Teyla's head tilted and her lips twitched. "If you insist. Thank you John." She walked over and joined the other women. As she settled into her seat, she turned back and flashed John a warm smile.
Dave looked over at John who was now attempting to take a bite of a ketchup-soaked french fry from the toddler who sat giggling in his lap. He raised his head and asked, "Do you need to be anywhere or do you have a few minutes to hang out?"
Dave replied, "I have a dinner appointment at seven. Nothing else pressing until then."
John smiled as he bobbed his head and offered Torren his pickle. The little boy put it in his mouth and made a huge face as his body shivered a bit. John burst out laughing and attempted to take the pickle away. But the boy just put it back in his mouth and took another bite. John laughed again and Dave realized it had been a very long time since he had seen his brother laugh like this. He should have had kids a long time ago. Except John hadn't said the kid was his. Dave wondered what the story was and began to probe for more information.
"The ladies look pretty good to me." Dave commented. "How long have you worked with them? Any interest?"
John rolled his eyes and made a face. "Banks, about a year and a half and she's military, so that's a no-no. I've known the Doc for almost three, but she's pretty much spoken for. Besides, she's seen more of me, inside and out, than I care to remember. That'd just be too weird."
He got a puzzled look on his face and muttered, "although McKay doesn't seem to mind." He shook his head as if to clear it and guided Torren's hand away from playing in the ketchup.
Dave brought John's attention back to the group of women with a reminder, "How about Teyla?"
John's eyed moved to where the golden-skinned woman sat and an almost sad smile appeared on his face. He stared as if hypnotized for a few moments until Dave broke the spell. "John? Teyla?"
John took one last gaze in her direction and faced Dave again. Dave started again digging for clues. "She's not from the States, is she?"
"No." John grinned.
"Is she local to where you're stationed?" Dave tried again.
John's eyes twinkled and he smirked as he reminisced, "Yeah, she's one of the first people we met there. That was over five years ago."
"Does she work with you on the outpost?" Dave was fishing, but John all of a sudden seemed to be more receptive to doling out tidbits of information.
John nodded. "Yeah, she's been a huge asset in helping us establish relationships with the other local villages. You know, trade for food and supplies."
"Food and supplies for you?" At John's nod Dave continued, "What do they get or should I ask?"
"Updated farming methods and technology. Protection, or as best we can." Regret shown in his eyes. "Sometimes our best isn't good enough, though."
Dave saw some deep pain start to resurface in John's eyes and thought it best to distract him. God only knew what kind of horror he had seen and was remembering. Dave chuckled and reached a hand out to Torren who was artistically drawing pictures in the ketchup on John's plate. Time to fish in deeper waters.
"What about Teyla's husband? Did he come, too?"
"Teyla's not married, but T.J.'s…" he paused for a second, "…father is here. Well, obviously not here here, but here." John motioned in a wide circle indicating a larger area.
"So why isn't he with Teyla or at least watching the kid so Teyla doesn't have to drag him all over the place?" Dave questioned.
John nodded and said dryly with a touch of sarcasm, "That's a very good question."
Dave could tell John wasn't impressed with the guy. But he didn't know the whole story and wasn't sure it was really any of his business so he changed his train of thought with the next question.
"Torren, what kind of a name is that?" Dave asked, hoping for a nationality or even a continent of reference.
"It was Teyla's father's name." John supplied, not at all helpful.
"But you call him T.J.?"
"Mm hmm, Torren John." Just then Torren decided to try and hug John again. John grabbed his ketchup-coated hands and held them away. He scooped the boy off his lap and plopped him on the floor. He grabbed a few napkins and wiped them quickly over the child's hands.
"I'm just gonna clean him up in the men's room for a few minutes. I'll be back." And John maneuvered the toddler inside the restaurant. Yeah, Dave thought, perfect timing to help John drop what seemed to be a touchy subject.
A few moments later the waitress was back asking if they needed anything else. At Dave's no, she handed him the check. He glanced at it, and handed it back to her with a few bills and a 'thank you' for the good service.
Dave was now very curious. The little boy John was now cleaning up, was named after his grandfather, and John, yet he wasn't John's child. Why was he named after John and not his own father? He walked over to where the three ladies were enjoying their meal.
Teyla glanced up and addressed him. "Dave Sheppard, how was your visit with John?"
Dave nodded his head, "It was good, if not a bit surprising."
Jennifer pointed to a chair and Dave lowered himself into it. "So, tell me about my brother."
The doctor looked at him curiously. "What do you want to know?"
He turned toward Amelia and asked, "How is he to work with?"
Amelia seemed taken aback, but still replied truthfully, "I like working with Colonel Sheppard. He's pretty laid back, although he expects everyone to work as hard as he does, which can be difficult at times. But everyone has the greatest respect for him and he treats everyone with respect no matter what position they're in."
Dave chuckled, "Really? What about his C.O.?"
"Mr. Woolsey? They get along fine, most of the time," she made a confused face. "Which is kinda surprising."
"No, I mean the Military Commander," he clarified. "John mentioned that this guy actually likes his hair the way it is." Dave appeared skeptical at this.
All three women laughed. Dave tilted his head questioningly.
Banks supplied the answer. "Colonel Sheppard is the Military Commander." Jennifer and Teyla nodded in agreement.
"What?" Dave was stunned. John in a position of power that important? Maybe it was a real small outpost. "How many military on base does he oversee?"
Banks shrugged. "All of them. A little under two hundred most of the time."
"Two hundred men? John's in charge of almost two hundred men?" His tone was tinged with disbelief.
"And women!" Amelia said firmly. "And the safety of everyone on the base which is closer to four hundred."
"Wow! I had no idea." Dave commented slowly.
Jennifer could hear the doubt in his voice and supplied, "The Colonel is very good at what he does. You should be proud of him. He's saved my life several times. There isn't a person on base who doesn't owe their life to John Sheppard at least once."
"Some of us owe him much more than others." Teyla revealed.
"Is that why your son is named Torren John?"
Teyla's face grew serious. "John Sheppard is a man of integrity and honor. He is brave, loyal and trustworthy and he gave me his trust when many of his people did not. That is not to be taken lightly. John would sacrifice his life without thought, if it meant that others would live."
"Which is how he ends up in the infirmary so often." Jennifer quipped.
Teyla continued. "John is a skilled warrior as well. He is intelligent and will try to avoid conflict if at all possible. He knows that brute strength is not always the answer. But when force is needed, he is ready to lead. He does not ask anything of his men that he is not willing to do himself. These are all qualities one wishes for their child. I am honored that my child carries the name of a man like this. A man who has been a true friend to me."
Dave heard this praise but had a hard time synching it with the brother he always thought of as an irresponsible flyboy. These people obviously knew a very different John Sheppard than the one he grew up with. What had happened over the last five years or so to change his brother so drastically? Dave wasn't sure he really wanted to know the answer.
He was about to ask a few more questions when John arrived back with the little boy in his arms.
"Well, he's as clean as he gonna get without a bath."
Teyla's eyes glanced up at John tenderly. "Thank you, John, for taking him and allowing me an uninterrupted meal." She reached to take the child but John held fast.
"Actually, T.J. and I were just talking and he said he really didn't want to do more shopping."
Teyla looked amused. "He told you this?"
John shrugged and smirked, "Yeah, he said it was girl stuff. So, I thought maybe we could go to the little park that's around the corner. I told him I'd teach him how to play …football." The grin got wider as John's head bobbed up and down.
"You realize he's only 14 months old, Sir, right?" Amelia asked.
"Well, it's never too late or too early to learn." John added.
"John, you do not need to do this." Teyla insisted. "He will be fine."
John's eyes narrowed. "Maybe he'll be fine, but if I go back now, you can bet Woolsey will find a ton of stuff for me to do, even if it is my day off."
"Actually, Sir," Amelia agreed, "before we left, he did ask me if you had finished those reports he wanted."
John stared at Teyla and pointed out, "See, I'm not doing this for you."
Teyla's lips slipped into a tiny smile. "Mm hmm."
"Sir," Amelia interrupted, "Mr. Woolsey was really quite anxious about getting those reports before the President arrives for the award ceremony."
"They're done." John assured her. "But you know I don't like giving him stuff too early because then he expects it early all the time."
Dave chuckled. This was the John he knew. The one who bucked authority just for the sake of doing it. Then the words he'd heard sunk in. "President? Not…the President of the United States?"
John was shaking his head but Keller was too fast with an explanation. "The President's presenting the Colonel with a Medal of Honor for bravery and service above and beyond the call of duty."
"For…?" Dave prompted.
Jennifer continued, "Saving the lives of millions of people."
John's eyes bore hard into the Doc and he muttered quickly, "Yeah, I'm a freakin' hero. Teyla," he redirected the attention, "you got a bag of stuff here for T.J.?"
Teyla reached down and handed John a small black backpack. "Great! Don't worry about him, we'll be fine…" He put his nose up close to the child's face and continued, "…playing football."
Torren giggled and clapped his hands.
Amelia started and reminded Jennifer, "Oh, remember, you promised to stop at the cheesecake place for Dr. McKay."
"He'd never let me live it down if I forgot." She agreed.
John perked up with interest. "You know I love cheesecake and I'm pretty sure McKay won't share so…" he trailed off with a hopeful look.
"I would be happy to purchase one for you." Teyla told him.
John appeared pleased and replied, "I'll even share mine with you. But not McKay."
Dave added his two cents. "If I recall correctly, Oreo cheesecake was a favorite of yours."
John seemed surprised that Dave would remember, but nodded his head in agreement.
He handed Torren over to Teyla. "Give your Mom a hug and a kiss, buddy." He then leaned in and quietly asked, "Did 'ya blow through all that cash I gave you this morning?"
When he moved to pull out his wallet, Teyla started to object. "You have been far too generous already, John, there is no need. I have a small amount left over. Enough to buy a cheesecake, I am certain."
John handed her a few large bills and insisted, "Just take it. How often are you gonna get here, huh?"
John pulled Torren back into his arms and informed him, "We are gonna have fun!"
Teyla hooked the backpack over his arm and rested her hand on top of it.
"Thank you, John," she said and smiled up into his face. John stared back for a few moments without saying anything, his eyes never leaving Teyla's face. He finally shook his head and responded, "You're welcome."
Dave was shaking his head, perplexed at the little scene. Jennifer turned toward him and whispered, "I know how you feel, but it's a complicated situation with those two."
Before he could ask anymore questions, John strolled up behind him and asked, "So, Bro, you up for a manly game of football with me and T.J. here? Or you got better things to do?"
It was almost a challenge, but Dave had already said he didn't have any plans until later so he nodded his head and said, "You're on!"
The boys exchanged pleasantries with the ladies and headed in the direction of the park. John made one stop to purchase a Nerf football and then they finished the last leg over to their destination. Once there, John deposited Torren on the grass. He tossed the football a few yards away and instructed, "Go! Run and get it and bring it back."
Dave laughed. "He's not a dog, John!"
"I know that." John replied. "But the poor kid has been practically immobile all day. He needs to get some energy out and playing 'fetch' is as good a way as any. Plus," John added as he got down on his knees, ready for Torren to run back with the football, "it's payback for all the times he's dropped a toy out of his highchair or crib and made me get it for him."
Torren, running with the ball in his hands, launched himself at John. John fake tackled him, blew a raspberry on his stomach then ordered him to go get the football he had just thrown again.
After twenty minutes or so of John and Torren rolling around on the grass with the football, John picked the toddler up and sat with him on the ground next to Dave. Dave had thrown the ball to the others a few times but mostly had watched his brother interacting with the child. Would he be that kind of dad when he and Julia had kids? He'd never really thought of it much but was beginning to realize this kid was awfully lucky to have someone like John who spent quality time with him.
As John doled out sips from a juice box and handfuls of Cheerios, Dave figured he'd try for a little more information. "So, any way you can tell me what happened during the two weeks you were missing or how you ended up in the infirmary being threatened with a medically induced coma. The Cliff Notes version is fine."
John looked at Dave like he was going to refuse; heck, Dave fully expected him to. But John paused, took a deep breath and said, "Okay, the Reader's Digest, very abridged, non-classified version. But don't complain if there are so many holes that it doesn't make sense."
Dave was so surprised that he was getting anything out of John that he readily agreed.
"Okay," John paused again and you could see his mind working overtime, probably trying to figure out how to explain it without giving away any military secrets.
"A while before this happened, most of Teyla's people had disappeared right out of their village. We spent a lot of time and resources trying to figure out what happened. As you can imagine, Teyla was frantic, especially since she'd just found out she was pregnant."
Dave interrupted to ask a question. "So Teyla wasn't with her people when they disappeared?"
John shook his head. "Teyla lives on base, so no, she wasn't with them."
"What about the kid's father?"
John nodded his head, "Kanaan, yeah he was taken."
"Taken?" Dave inquired.
"We found out… some bad guys… took the whole village for the amusement of one sadistic, little…" John stopped here, his jaw clenched and his face grew hard. He gave a tight-lipped smile and continued, "Unfortunately we only found out the who after a trap was set and Teyla was captured. I was on another mission at the time."
Dave could see the guilt pouring out of John's eyes at this statement. He obviously felt responsible and figured that if he had been there, it wouldn't have happened.
"After that, I beefed up the search and the intelligence ops looking for any information I could get. We got some Intel that helped us locate Teyla's people, or what was left of them, "he managed disgustedly. "We missed Teyla by minutes. They had just left with her."
John paused to regroup his thoughts and continued, "We never gave up on Teyla though. I was on my way back from an unsuccessful meeting with a supposed source, when I had… let's call it a… transportation malfunction. That, along with ineffective communications and a bout of …bad weather, kept me from getting back to base for a while."
"For two weeks?" Dave asked incredulously.
"It was actually only twelve days. But, with a little unexpected help, I got back and also found out where they were potentially holding Teyla. After a quick debriefing and some supplies, we set out again. And this time we got there too early. I wasn't thinking straight, I should have known, but the damn place was booby-trapped. It imploded on us a few minutes after we started searching it."
"That's how you got injured? You're lucky you didn't get killed."
"Yeah, well two of my men weren't so lucky." John recalled. "Edison managed to make it almost to the door when the place came down. He was able to get back to base for some help. McKay and Lorne were dug out fairly quickly, an hour or so, but Ronon and I were a little deeper. It was, I don't know, six or seven hours before they got to us and then they had… the bad guys…to contend with. They were tipped off to our presence when the building went down."
"Ronon? Your civilian contractor friend?"
John rolled his eyes, grinned and then handed Torren a few more Cheerios. "Mm, Ronon wasn't too bad off, a few cuts and bruises mostly. But, my luck, I ended up wedged under a beam with a foot long piece of re-bar stuck in my side.
Dave looked appalled. "For six hours?"
"Under the beam, yeah, we never did manage to move it. Ronon pulled the re-bar out though."
"And left a gaping wound bleeding for six hours." Dave pointed out.
John made a pained face and said, "That's kind of why Keller was so pissed."
"At Ronon for pulling it out?"
"At me," John explained. "Once she'd cleaned up the wound, I left to fly the mission to rescue Teyla."
Dave's eyes grew wide. "You had an open, wound that had been bleeding for six hours and you flew a mission? Are you nuts?"
John scooted Torren closer to his body and kissed the child's head. He breathed a huge sigh and whispered, "It was Teyla."
If Dave had any doubts at this point about what feelings his brother had for this boy's mother, they were wiped away instantly. John threw the empty Cheerio container in the bag, grabbed a baby wipe and quickly cleaned the kid up. He made short work of a diaper change, grabbed a small blanket and a stuffed giraffe and put them in the boy's hands. Torren immediately hugged the animal, put the blanket up to his face and stuck his thumb firmly in his mouth.
John hoisted the child further into his arms, stood up and started moving away while saying, "He's gonna be out in a second so I'm gonna get a little more comfortable. Can you grab the bag?"
Dave picked up the football, placed it in the bag and brought them over to the bench John was now occupying. Dave sat down next to him and as John had predicted, the toddler's eyes started to close.
John may not have been the boy's father, but from where he was sitting, even an expert wouldn't have been able to tell the difference. He was about to comment on this when he realized John had never finished telling him how they had managed to rescue Teyla.
"So you flew off to rescue Teyla, trailing blood I assume?" Dave prompted. "And this Woolsey guy thought this was okay?"
"Woolsey hadn't joined us yet. We still had Samantha Carter. And yeah, she tried to talk me out of it but I just told her I was going, end of story."
Dave looked concerned. "John, do you not care about the trouble you can get into by disobeying orders?"
"Well, Carter never actually ordered me not to go, but it wouldn't have mattered if she had. Blood transfusions and surgery weren't foremost in my mind at the time. We knew exactly where Teyla was and she was too close not to make an attempt. It's a good thing we did because she ended up delivering this guy in the middle of the rescue." He looked down at the sleeping child he held snuggly in his arms.
"You delivered him?" Dave asked, thinking it would explain the name and why his brother had such a connection to the child.
"No," John denied. "McKay did. Ronon and I were off… blowing something up. But in the fifteen minutes it took us, Teyla had given birth. Ronon carried her out and then we ran into a little snag with our transport. But Kanaan, Torren's father gave us a hand."
At Dave's questioning gaze, John continued, "Kanaan had been … influenced… to work for Michael. That's what we called the sadistic bastard who had Teyla. Kanaan helped us borrow some transportation and I flew us all out of there."
"So, Torren's father was actually working for this Michael?" Dave wanted clarified.
"Not of his own free will. But Michael had many methods of controlling people." John supplied uneasily.
"Yet you still hold a grudge against this Kanaan guy, don't you, for working for Michael?" Dave guessed.
John took a deep breath and moved Torren's blanket so it covered him a bit more. "I don't care that he was forced to work for Michael, but Teyla was there for over three weeks and he never did anything to help her. She says he made an attempt at one point but was afraid Michael would kill them."
"You don't believe that he did?"
"I don't care what anyone threatened me with or did to me," John insisted vehemently, "I would never have stopped trying to get her out of there."
"And you eventually did." Dave stated. "Not everyone can be The Greatest American Hero, you know."
John chuckled, "Yeah, and I didn't even have the red suit."
Dave sat staring at his brother as John stroked a hand over the sleeping child's head. God! He had it bad!
Dave sat for a moment then cautiously suggested, "Why don't you just tell her how you feel."
John looked up at Dave with a puzzled look on his face. "What are you talking about?"
"Teyla." Dave answered. "Have you ever told her how you feel about her?"
John's mouth opened then closed again. He shook his head and said, "No, it's not like that."
"You can look me in the eye and tell me you don't have some pretty deep feelings for this woman." Dave challenged.
John's glance only stayed for a moment on Dave's before it faltered and moved to the sleeping child he was holding. A melancholy smile appeared on his face as he said in a defeated tone, "It doesn't matter."
"Of course it matters!" Dave insisted.
"No!" John replied almost angrily. "It doesn't. She and Kanaan have a child together. I'm no homewrecker and I'm certainly not gonna get in the way of that. Besides, she made her choice and it wasn't me."
"Did she have you as a choice?" Dave asked with a bit of insight into what the situation might have been. "Did you indicate in any way that you were interested in pursuing her romantically?"
John moved his head back and forth and pursed his lips as he answered. "All right, no. But we all know I'm a little stupid when it comes to women."
Dave let out a big sigh and whispered, "Oh, John. I'm sorry."
"As long as she's happy," John began, "That's what's important."
"And is she?" Dave asked. "Happy with this Kanaan guy?"
John shrugged his shoulders and his free hand moved up and back down again. "I don't know. I very rarely see them together. He spends a lot of his time in the village and when he is on base, he doesn't come and hang out with the rest of us."
He squinted one eye closed like he was remembering something. "I'm not sure Teyla even spends that much time with him since she's with us most of the time. And a lot of the time she has T.J. with her. It's how I started reading him a bedtime story every night."
"And Kanaan, he's cool with this?" Dave wondered.
John shrugged again. "If I come to Teyla's quarters for the story, he usually takes off until I'm gone."
"What would you do if the guy your woman named your kid after showed up at your door every night to read your son a bedtime story?" Dave challenged.
John snickered, "I'd knock him on his ass after I kicked him out the door." Dave joined in the laughter.
Torren took that moment to fuss in his sleep, so John shifted him higher on his chest and gently caressed his cheek with the blanket while whispering in his ear. The child settled right back down.
Dave was in awe at that bit of magic. "How do you know how to do this stuff?"
John just grinned. "I've been helping Teyla with T.J. since he was born. This quilt," he indicated the blanket the child was clutching in his sleep, "was made by the women of Teyla's village. He's slept with it since he was barely a month old. The smell and feel of it always settles him right down."
"Kind of like that old stuffed bunny you used to drag around." Dave reminded him.
John's eyes grew round. "I'd forgotten about that. God! Dad hated that thing!"
"And you used to flaunt it in his face every chance you got. You used to try and get him to kiss it, remember?
"Yeah, I remember." Then John's voice softened. "But you know, Mom always would. No matter if I had just dragged the thing through the mud, she'd always give it a kiss. And then she'd give me one too."
John moved his head the few inches he needed to rest his lips on Torren's head.
"You're a great dad, you know that, John?" Dave observed.
"I'm not…" John began but Dave cut him off.
"You're doing a better job than Dad did most of the time." Dave pointed out.
John didn't disagree but just nodded. "He had his moments."
Dave nodded solemnly. "Yeah, he did."
Then John's eyes started to twinkle. "I actually got him to kiss that ratty old bunny a few times, too. Mostly I think so I'd get it out of his face."
"You sure knew how to push his buttons." Dave grinned.
John agreed with a less than enthusiastic nod. "And you know, I'd do it just because I could." Regret had started to creep back into John's voice so Dave started thinking of a way to change the subject.
"You know John, I was checking the news reports and I noticed that shortly before you called, there was an unexplained incident around the San Francisco area. Quite a few people saw a series of bright lights trailing across the sky. And a few reports even say that there may have been a massive explosion further out in the atmosphere. And now there's a large area of San Francisco Bay quarantined off from all boat traffic. That wouldn't have anything to do with why you and some of your people are here, would it? Or why you're getting a Medal of Honor from the President?"
The wry smiled appeared again and John said, "You don't expect me to answer that, do you?"
Dave just chuckled. "I think you just did." John just tilted his head and shrugged.
"Just be careful," Dave warned. "I've heard that more than a few reporters have stated they wouldn't give up until they find out the truth about this matter. You know how tenacious they can be."
John did know, but appreciated Dave's concern anyway. He just nodded.
Dave looked down at Torren and realized the boy's eyes were open and staring up at John. They had a dreamy quality to them and he still had his thumb firmly in his mouth.
John's face grew softer with the smile he gave the toddler. "Hey pal, did ya' have a good sleep?"
The boy nodded then whispered, "Torwy, Unta Dohn?"
John grinned as if he knew what the child was going to ask. "Sure, let's see what Mommy packed." He reached into the backpack and pulled out a book. The cover had a picture of a porcupine with green beans stuck in its quills. Torren clapped excitedly and said what sounded like, "Eat a up!"
"Oh, yeah!" John agreed with enthusiasm. "This is one of my favorites, too." He adjusted Torren in his lap and held the book so they both could see the pages and started to almost sing the words.
"Today is Monday. Today is Monday. Monday, string beans, all you hungry children, come and eat it up!"
At the last few words, Torren joined in with, "Eat a up!"
Dave watched, fascinated, as John continued turning the pages and chanting as each day of the week went by and another animal had a different kind of food. And on each page Torren joined in with, "Eat a up!"
As John closed the book and slipped it back into the bag, Torren wiggled off his lap and began to toddle away. But he kept glancing back like he expected something to happen. Sure enough, John's eye's lit up and he started to move toward the boy, chanting "Come and eat you up!"
Torren shrieked with laughter and allowed John to swing him in the air then gently lay him on the ground. Torren's hands went to his chubby little belly as John lowered his head and blew a huge raspberry where the boy's hands had been.
Dave chuckled at the obviously choreographed routine of these two. "You've read this to him before, I take it?" Dave inquired.
"Mm hmm, a few times." John agreed.
Dave watched them frolic on the ground for a while before he dropped onto the grass beside them. His first thought was that he might get grass stains on his pants. But looking at his brother, lying on his back with a toddler dangling in the air above him, squealing with delight, he realized something. Even though much of the information he'd gleaned from John and his friends was very scattered and difficult to fully understand, he was starting to get a much clearer picture of who his brother had become.
He was a leader with a tremendous amount of responsibility. A responsibility that he took very seriously. It was apparent that John had seen conflict and hardship. And he had risen to the occasion by doing what he could and more to keep everyone around him safe. A Medal of Honor from the President was no small feat indeed. But John just shrugged it off like it was a sticker on a spelling test.
And here came the realization. John could care less about an award handed to him from the Commander in Chief of his own country. What he cared about, what was really important to him was taking time to play with this child. The child wasn't even his own flesh and blood, but because he was the son of someone who meant a great deal to John, the child did, too.
This small child, who was now clinging to John's back as he walked across the grass on his hands and knees, kept John grounded. Helped him remain the carefree, fun-loving person Dave remembered of him as a child. John worked hard and knew what was important, but he played equally as hard to avoid losing himself in the horrors of his job.
It seemed like Dave could use some of that lesson taught to him. Maybe he was being taught right now in this very subtle way. He looked down at his pants and smiled. Yeah, grass stains didn't seem high on the list of problems at the moment.
Torren wobbled over to Dave and handed him the football. Still unsure exactly how to deal with kids, Dave looked to John for guidance. John popped up off the grass and moved away at a quick clip. "Over here!" he yelled back to Dave.
It had been a while, but his years as the quarterback on the high school team came rushing back and he threw a perfect spiral that John had to dive to catch.
John sat up and shook his head as Torren ran over and flung himself on his chest. John had been expecting it and fell onto his back bringing the little boy with him. The child squealed with delight then shook John once he noticed that his eyes were closed. John continued to play dead so the boy leaned in and blew his version of a raspberry on John's cheek. John sat up quick, grabbed the boy and wiped his face on Torren's shirt, eliciting another round of noises from him.
John got up on his knees, grabbed the football and called out, "Head's up!" as he launched the ball in Dave's direction.
Dave wasn't expecting it but managed to get to it in time anyway. By now John was on his feet and Torren was jumping up and down, eagerly waiting for the ball to go flying again.
Dave lobbed the ball in John's direction again and this time John caught it without falling on the ground. It felt good to throw the ball around with his brother. He couldn't remember the last time they had done it; probably not since college.
They spent a bit more time throwing the ball back and forth, occasionally handing it off to Torren who then expected to be tackled. John willingly obliged and even Dave had allowed Torren to tackle him a time or two.
Torren had just handed the ball off to John when Dave rushed up behind him, grabbed him around the waist and rolled with him to the ground. As John's head cleared, he smiled at his brother. "You've still got it Dave."
They both raised their heads at Torren's voice yelling, "Mama, Mama!" Teyla was standing near them with a small video camera up to her face. When she saw them look up, she lowered the camera and grinned.
"Very cute. Perhaps you could use this," she indicated the camera, "as a training exercise for the men, on what not to do."
"Blackmail, huh!" John grunted as he got up and sprinted in her direction. He grabbed her around the waist from behind and swung her in a circle. "Good thing you're not military or I could have you court-martialed, you know."
Teyla was gently deposited back on her feet and responded with a wide smile. "Good thing."
She knelt down next to her son and asked, "Did you have a good time today?"
Torren's eyes got bigger as he showed Teyla the football and attempted to throw it.
John picked it up and stood in front of Teyla. "We played football, ate some Cheerios, read a book and even took a 45 minute nap."
"Just Torren," Teyla questioned, her eyes gleaming with humor, "or did you also nap?"
Dave moved closer and verified, "Nope, just the kid, although I think John could have nodded off if I hadn't been chewing on his ear."
Teyla smiled at Dave. "I am pleased that you and John had an opportunity to speak with each other."
"And play football." John added. "Dave used to be the star quarterback for the high school team. He's still pretty good."
Dave was pleased at the compliment from his very active brother, but laughed at his next words.
"I think I'm getting a little soft though. We haven't had any action in the past two weeks since we've been here.
Teyla made a suggestion. "Then maybe we need to double up on our sparring sessions, John."
Dave eyed the petite woman with shock. "You two spar with each other? That's a little uneven, don't you think?"
John gave a crooked grin and answered, "Yeah, maybe, but one of these days," he looked straight at Teyla, "I'll be good enough and then I'm gonna kick your ass."
Teyla swayed a bit closer until her face was right in front of John's. One eyebrow rose seductively as she tilted her head. "Only in your dreams, John Sheppard."
John held her gaze for a few seconds, took a deep breath and then released it.
Torren took that opportunity to pull on Teyla's leg. The spell was broken, but Dave had felt the chemistry between the two of them from where he stood. He wondered how they both didn't combust when they were together.
As Teyla picked up her son, Dave gazed questioningly at his brother. "That tiny thing beats you when you spar together? For real?"
There was actually pride on John's face when he answered, "Oh, yeah, she a feisty little Athosian warrior."
Athosian? Dave thought. He was just going to ask what that meant when he heard a whiny voice heading in their direction.
"Oh, come off it! How long does it take to pick up one small baby and one overgrown kid from a park?"
Teyla rolled her eyes in John's direction and said, "John, Mr. Woolsey sent Rodney in a car to collect us all and bring us back."
Dave now saw the Town Car sitting by the curb with the back door open. John greeted the whiny man as he approached. "McKay."
Dave did a double take. He'd heard them speak of this man, McKay, quite a bit and it had sounded like he was a friend and member of their unit. He had expected a big strong military type with a rippling physique and a brush cut. But this man was several inches under John's six foot height, slightly balding and more than a little soft in the middle.
"You know," McKay complained, "I have better things to do with my time than play chauffeur to the bunch of you. The least you could do is come when called."
"What am I? Lassie?" John protested. "And you can't be a chauffeur, McKay, if you're not actually driving the car."
"Semantics. Come on, Sheppard," McKay said rubbing his hands together, "I've got a cheesecake waiting for me with my name written all over it."
It was then that Rodney actually noticed that there was someone else standing with John and Teyla.
"Oh, hello, and you are…?"
Dave held out his hand and replied, "David Sheppard."
Rodney completely ignored the proffered hand and looked puzzle and then enlightened as he looked at John. "Oh, your brother. You were having lunch with your brother today. I knew that."
"Yes, you did Rodney." John confirmed in a tone similar to the one he used with Torren.
"Dave," John introduced, "Rodney McKay."
Rodney looked at Dave who still had his hand extended. He put his own hand out and corrected, "Oh, uh…Doctor Rodney McKay."
They shook hands and Dave looked at John. "One of the scientists?"
John just closed his eyes and nodded.
McKay fixated back on his original topic with, "Oh, uh, friends…Woolsey sent me to round up the gang. He wants everybody back."
"McKay, it's my day off." John emphasized the last word.
"Well, it's back on again." McKay apologized. "Sorry."
"It's okay, John." Dave acknowledged. "I've gotta get going so I can get ready for my dinner meeting anyway."
John nodded and suggested. "Well, the least we could do is give you a ride back to your hotel."
Dave was about to decline when Rodney spoke up nervously. "Uh, John, Woolsey wants us back like…" he checked his watch, "a half hour ago."
John spoke slowly and insistently to the scientist. "We can give him a ride to his hotel."
McKay looked like he was going to argue again so John added, "I'll take the heat with Woolsey." That seemed to calm the man down somewhat.
John picked up Torren's bag as Teyla and Rodney headed toward the waiting car. John started to follow but Dave put a hand out to stop him.
"You really don't have to give me a ride. It sounds like you need to get back quick."
"No!" John disagreed. "We really do need to take you to your hotel and Woolsey can wait!"
As John began walking again he added, "It's my day off!"
John's comments brought Dave back to when they were teenagers and John would defy their father in much the same way. Dave snickered, "You purposely want to get back late to annoy this guy, don't you?"
"Annoy? No." John denied. He stopped and turned toward Dave. "But I'm lucky if I get maybe one day off every month or so. There needs to be a little two-way respect here."
As they started moving again, Dave commented, "You know, John, watching you today I was pretty amazed at how much you've changed. But it's good to see that the rebellious little brother I know and love is still in there somewhere."
John just winked at Dave in reply.
They reached the car and John leaned down to talk to the driver as Dave went to get in. He saw Amelia and Teyla sitting in the back seat with McKay and Dr. Keller in the jump seat facing them. He chose to sit next to McKay leaving the seat next to Teyla for John.
The ladies in the vehicle greeted Dave and then John and asked how their afternoon had been. Dave pointed to his knees and said, "Grass stains on the pants. We must have had fun!"
John's head snapped up in surprise, but when Dave flashed him a genuine smile, John seemed to relax and let out a sigh.
Dave returned the question to the women and listened as they buzzed about some of their purchases.
John's puzzled gaze searched the back of the car.
"It's all in the trunk, Sir." Banks filled in.
"Along with one Oreo cheesecake," Teyla supplied.
John made a fist, pumped it in front of him and whispered, "Yes!"
He grabbed Torren who was trying to crawl between the seats and struggled to buckle his wiggling body onto his lap. "Come on, buddy, you're supposed to be in a car seat. But I'll let you share my seat belt, okay."
The kid seemed to understand and stopped squirming for the moment. John took his watch off and handed it to the boy. Teyla saw this and sighed.
"John, the last time you allowed him to play with your watch, it took both Rodney and Radek to reset it for you."
"Oh, don't give Zalenka any credit for that. " McKay insisted. "All he did was press a few random buttons. I'm the one who figured it all out."
"It doesn't matter." John stressed. "I think I need to requisition a new one. This one hasn't worked right since we had that… rough landing… with Todd."
"No wonder," McKay sneered. "That wasn't a landing, it was…"
"Rodney!" John warned. Dave had seen his brother's eyes flick toward him as he had interrupted the scientist. He wondered what the man had been about to say. Wondered if it would give him any more clues as to where John was stationed and exactly what he was doing.
Suddenly McKay started snapping his fingers and squawking. "Oh, oh, oh, oh, I just realized you said you got Sheppard a cheesecake, too. I thought you were just getting one for me."
Jennifer rolled her eyes. "Rodney, you don't hold the cheesecake exclusive, you know. Besides, Colonel Sheppard took Torren with him all afternoon so we didn't have to drag him around with us."
McKay made a face. "Oh, are you kidding me. He loves doing stuff like that. They're like the same age." And he flapped his hands in John's direction to prove a point. And sure enough, John had his head bent near Torren's and they were giggling together as John helped the boy press a sequence of buttons that produced a series of beeping noises.
"And the Colonel also bought us lunch." Amelia added. "Thank you, Sir, by the way."
"Yes, thank you." Jennifer agreed. "I couldn't believe it when the waitress came over and said you had already taken care of the bill."
Teyla's hand moved over and rested on John's. "Your generosity today, John, has been overwhelming."
"Well, of course it has been! " McKay snapped. "It's my money he's been using."
"What are you talking about, Rodney?" Jennifer inquired.
Teyla lifted her head, her eyes thoughtful. "Did you lose another bet, Rodney?"
"Yes, he did." John stated smugly.
"How much?" demanded Jennifer.
"A month's pay." McKay admitted sourly.
"Why do you make these bets?" the doctor persisted.
McKay sneered again. "Well, I didn't think that he'd actually make it…" he admitted then lowered his voice, "alive that is."
Jennifer smacked Rodney in the arm, but John simply snorted, "Your concern for my well-being is heart warming, McKay."
"I don't even want to know what you did, Colonel." Jennifer announced. "You didn't end up in the infirmary and that's all I care about."
"Hey, wait a minute," McKay attempted to get attention again. "You keep getting off the subject here. Sheppard got a cheesecake, too. What kind?" His eyes lit up.
Teyla answered for him. "Oreo, and it looks delicious."
John nodded. "It is. Wait until you try it."
"Oreo. Hmm, I bet I'd like it." McKay agreed.
"Well, you're not getting any." John informed him.
"What do you mean? Why not?" McKay demanded.
"Are you gonna let me have a piece of yours?" John asked.
"No!" Rodney answered like he'd been asked a ridiculous question. "But what does that have to do with anything?"
John shrugged. "You don't share yours, I don't share mine."
"But you're sharing yours with Teyla." Rodney pointed out.
"Yes, I am." John conceded. "But Teyla bought it for me."
Teyla chuckled. "With your money."
"My money!" Rodney grumbled.
"Which I won fair and square, you sore loser!" John gloated.
Dave watched this banter go back and forth and wondered curiously if he was in a Laurel and Hardy movie.
McKay gave one last try. "Come on Sheppard you're just kidding right? You'll let me have a piece."
John leaned down to the child in his lap and asked, "T.J., do you hear that? It's like a fly buzzing in my ear." And both man and boy starting swatting the air near their ears.
Everyone but McKay laughed. He simply pouted and quipped, "Hardy har har."
The car slid to a stop and the back door opened. "We're at the hotel, sir." The driver informed them.
Dave took one last look at the people in the back with him. "It was nice meeting all of you."
John snorted. "You don't have to lie to McKay."
Rodney just pursed his lips and rolled his eyes.
Dave moved to exit the car when Teyla put her hand on his arm. "Thank you for assisting John in taking care of my son this afternoon."
Dave inclined his head and responded, "Surprisingly, it was my pleasure." He placed his hand on top of hers and invited, "If John ever gets the opportunity to come home," his eyes darted to John at the word home, "you should come with him. And bring Torren. He'd love the horses."
"I think I would enjoy that very much," Teyla said. "Thank you."
John followed Dave out of the car and cleared his throat. "Uh, thanks for coming all this way to see me. I'm …uh… glad you did."
"I'm glad I did too, John. You seem to be doing okay for yourself."
"Well," John pulled his hands out of his pockets and cleared his throat again. "Take care. And send me a picture of this Julia."
"Will do." Dave agreed and pulled John in for a quick hug and a slap on the back. "Be careful, John."
John nodded and shrugged his shoulder. "I'll do my best." They stood there awkwardly for a few seconds, then both said "Bye," at the same time.
As John climbed back into the car, Dave could hear McKay complain. "How come you never told me your family had horses?"
"Rodney!" Jennifer admonished. "Didn't you listen to Ronon when he told us about them?"
"When have I ever listened to Conan?" The sarcastic reply was cut off as the door was shut and the car pulled away from the curb.
He wondered if John would indeed take the blame for getting them all back late. Knowing John, probably. Although if this Woolsey guy had any intelligence at all, he wouldn't antagonize the guy who was getting a Medal of Honor from the President. Dave reflected back on all that had gone on that day, all the people he had met, and all the tidbits of information he'd been able to pick up during the time.
He felt he knew his brother a little better than he had yesterday, but as John has said, there were still so many holes to fill in. But one thing he knew. John had people around him who cared about him and for him. Even McKay. Dave could tell that he and John had a deep respect and appreciation for each other. He wasn't sure why, since McKay seemed completely egocentric and arrogant, but Dave noticed the twinkle in John's eyes and the silly grin he had when talking to the man. Yeah, he was John's friend, also.
Dave was still scared to death to think John might be taken away from him before they really had a chance to be close again. But he had to trust these people, these friends of his brother's, to keep him safe and keep him happy.
Dave Sheppard stood there for a few minutes watching the dark colored vehicle move slowly down the crowded street. Dave could see the Golden Gate Bridge from where he was standing and realized he'd never actually crossed it before. But thinking about today he understood that maybe he'd crossed a bridge of a different sort; one that stood between him and his brother. And maybe they hadn't gone all the way across, but they had gotten really close to meeting in the middle.
"Lunch was great, honey! I'm glad you're finally taking a little bit of time for yourself."
David Sheppard stared at his beautiful fiancée, Julia, as she balanced on the corner of his desk. He glanced at the diamond solitaire he had put on her finger just a week ago. He took her hand and replied, "Just a little something my brother taught me."
She squeezed his hand and said, "I hope I get to meet him soon, to say thank you."
"I hope so, too. I haven't heard from him since our lunch almost a month ago."
Julia heard the concern in his voice and wished she had some encouraging words for him. But since she knew so little about John Sheppard or what he did, she figured anything she said would be empty.
As she looked around the room for something to divert David's attention, she noticed the manilla envelope on the other corner of his desk. It had an Air Force symbol on the return address.
"David?" She got his attention and pointed to the envelope hidden partially under a pile of other unopened mail.
David's eyes grew fearful as he noticed there was no name, just the address for Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. David hesitated for a second before he tore open the seal. As he emptied the contents into his hand, his body relaxed and his face lit up. He took only a moment to peruse the small handwritten note attached to what looked like two 5 x 8 pictures.
He showed them to Julia. The first was a picture of John and him. It must have been made from the video Teyla had taken. It was right after David had tackled John that last time. They had just sat up and David still had his arm partially around his brother. Their faces said it all. They were having a ball and they were doing it together.
Julia looked at the second picture. It showed the same man as the first picture, obviously David's brother, John, but this time in a dress Air Force uniform during some sort of a ceremony.
She looked closer and her eyes shot open. "That's… that's the President of the United States!"
"I told you he was getting a Medal of Honor from the President." David recalled.
Julia chuckled. "And I thought one of you was just making it up."
David looked at the picture again and then the note. "And that's not all he got." David claimed with such pride that Julia leaned closer to look at the picture again. She realized the President was putting something on John's shoulder.
David held out the note to help Julia with the mystery. It read:
I thought you might like a remembrance of your day with John. You were also not able to be with us at the award ceremony.
I thought you might like to see John getting his award AND his promotion to full Colonel! Be well.
Julia put her hand on his shoulder and said, "That's great. You must be very proud."
David was. But as he looked again at his brother being given his new rank, he knew that Dad would have been proud as well.