Summary: John took a step closer until all that separated them were a few air molecules trapped in the small space between them. He took her in his arms again, and held her close, swaying slowly to the music. "You're still my Best Girl, Nance," he whispered...

Author's Note: Some dialogue is borrowed from "The Outcast" [4.15] and "Enemy at the Gate" [5.20]. A special thanks to my beta Bookworm4hire for her awesome help!

Warnings: Spoilers up to and including "Enemy at the Gate."

Rating: PG-13 for some language

Words: 30,400

Disclaimer: Stargate Atlantis belongs to MGM and 20th Century Fox; this is an original story that does not intend to infringe on their copyright. Any and all critical feedback is appreciated.

Copyright: June 2010


Love Will Lead You Home

By Syl Francis


5 Years Ago…

Rock Creek Park

Washington, D.C.

Major John Sheppard sat on the freshly mown grassy field overlooking Boulder Bridge, which crossed the meandering Rock Creek. He was oblivious to the glorious spring day activities around him. The high pitched laughter of children at play barely registered on his consciousness. Cars passed by infrequently on the nearby Beach Drive that bisected the park in a north/south direction.

He thought about the good times he and Nancy had here during their somewhat brief marriage. They had been happy, or so he'd thought. At least, he'd been happy…deliriously so. He had a beautiful wife he adored and a job he loved—plus all the adventure an adrenaline junkie like him could ask for. Everything had been so perfect…until it all went south.

Sheppard didn't want to delve into it again, but the memories came unbidden. First, Nancy's miscarriage and their mutual heartbreak over the loss of their unborn child….He felt the familiar, painful squeezing in his chest that the memory always evoked. He hadn't even realized how much he wanted to be a father until that moment in the hospital when he found out he'd lost his chance.

Then came the divorce. Sheppard figured that he was pretty messed up by then. He requested combat duty and was on the first available transport to Afghanistan to escape the heartache that thoughts of Nancy and the baby brought.

Then, he had that whole debacle over Mitch and Dex. He should have handled their deaths better, being the battalion XO and all. He disagreed with the operations order and objected until blue in the face with S3-Ops and the Old Man. He'd asked the S2 to re-verify the intelligence they'd received from some of their local contacts. Sheppard thought something didn't smell right—it all seemed too pat—but he was overruled. In that case, he requested to lead the mission, since he had more night combat hours than anyone else in the unit.

The CO approved, and Sheppard flew the lead helicopter. When they were in position to take out the target, all hell broke loose. Suddenly, small arms fire exploded all around them. The distinct heat signatures of rocket launchers being fired showed up in their night vision goggles. It was an ambush. The enemy had been lying in wait for them.

"Evasive action! Fire at will!"

He ordered the small strike force to break off and head back. "I'll cover your six! Mitch…Dex…take the lead!" No sooner were the words out of his mouth than Mitch and Dex's helicopter took a direct hit. It went up in a ball of fire, nearly blinding him through his NVGs.

Afterwards, Sheppard knew somewhere in the deep recesses of his mind that he must have been suffering from post-traumatic stress because he reamed into his CO, Colonel Ames, letting him know exactly what he thought of him in no uncertain terms for ordering the mission without verifying the intel as he'd recommended.

A few days later, Ames ordered him to leave Holland behind, and…Sheppard supposed he probably cracked just a bit. He took his helicopter directly against orders and flew back for his friend. He wasn't really thinking. All he knew was that Holland's wife was expecting their first child—a boy Holland had told him ecstatically—and Sheppard wasn't about to let his best friend's son grow up without a father if he could help it.

Unfortunately, the "rescue" went horribly wrong, and Holland died later in the hospital of the wounds he'd sustained. Holland's widow Amy wrote Sheppard a nice note thanking him for going back for her husband.

It was a nice gesture, but it didn't help. Sheppard had failed them all—Nancy, his baby, Mitch and Dex, Holland—and he had to live with it.

Therefore, his assignment to the research base in McMurdo located in the Antarctic—the farthest place that the Air Force could ship him and still allow him to fly, weather permitting—turned out to be a godsend. There he'd had no real responsibilities other than flying VIPs and geeks to a super-secret base that he had to pretend wasn't really there. At least the non-disclosure document he'd had to sign stated that. And he was perfectly fine with it as long as he still had the sky.

At least he got to fly over some of the most breath-taking vistas he'd ever had the privilege of enjoying. But, he knew his peaceful interlude couldn't last forever, which is why he was sitting here in Rock Creek Park reflecting on the past year and trying to decide his immediate future.

He turned in the direction of a young child's high shrieks of laughter and saw a father tossing his little boy in the air. He froze momentarily, and then shook himself. He'd heard through an Air Force buddy that Nancy was getting married again.

"I guess one of has moved on," he muttered. It was another door permanently closed to him.

General O'Neill and Dr. Weir had offered him a new chance on a silver platter. All he had to do was say "yes." Of course, the "silver platter" was just slightly tarnished with the whole "one-way trip to another galaxy through a device called a Stargate." But then…what did he have left here?

He took a deep breath and bit his bottom lip. The next moment, his hazel eyes darkened, as a sudden determination overtook him. It was time to take back control of his life.

"Okay, John…this is it. Heads, I go." He flipped the coin that he'd been fingering all afternoon and caught it mid-spin. He slapped it on the back of his other hand and slowly uncovered it. He rolled his eyes. "Tails...of course. Oh, well…I guess, I go anyway." He smirked. He'd never liked following the rules before, so why start now?