blue flamingos


Fandom: SGA

Category/Rated: Gen/PG

Year/Length: 2010/6867 words

Spoilers: post Enemy At The Gate

Disclaimer: No, I don't own them, for which I should think they're profoundly grateful.

Summary: John's pretty sure saving the Earth is supposed to come with a reward, not with things gettin even worse

Author's Notes: I wrote this originally for the sheppard_hc secret santa, but had a better idea that worked better for the prompt, so I throw this at your mercy.

Feedback: Yes please. Even if it's bad. Especially if it's bad.


Lorne had caught up to John as he was heading into the mission briefing and said, "Colonel, can I come?"

The words had reminded John of Ford, right at the beginning, and Lorne's expression, tense and trapped, had reminded him of himself. He'd said, "You should be asking Landry," meaning I want you there, but I don't get to say any more.

Landry had said yes, which meant that, if he wanted to, John could blame Landry for how Lorne was lying still and unnaturally pale on a hospital bed in the SGC infirmary. Not that he would, of course. John had been the one to want Lorne with him, John had been the one to send him off with Wallace, which meant if anyone was getting blamed it was John.

The heart monitor Lorne was hooked up to bleeped steadily in the dim infirmary, sort of comforting in the quiet. It sounded like home, which John figured was a pretty sick way of thinking about Atlantis. Not that he was home, although the SGC infirmary didn't look all that different to Atlantis'; only enough for John not to keep looking for Dr Keller, not to expect it to be her when he heard footsteps coming up behind him.

He knew Dr Lam had been at the SGC for a while, which meant she'd undoubtedly learned how much of a good idea it wasn't to approach soldiers from behind. At least, John assumed that was why she changed her angle of approach before she got too close, and came into his line of vision from his left, far enough away that he wouldn't have twitched even if he had heard her coming.

She stopped at the machines, checked their readout, then turned to John. "You're supposed to be in bed, Colonel." Keller had long ago learned how to speak to John and the rest of the command team like she expected to be obeyed, but Lam's dry, inflectionless words were oddly more effective. Of course, it didn't hurt that she towered over him when he was sitting down.

"I was just checking on him."

Lam folded her arms, and John felt like he was being glared at, even though her face didn't change at all. He'd have to get her to teach him that, it was a neat trick. "My office looks directly into the medical bay," she said. "And contains a perfectly functioning clock."

"Good for you."

"Which means that I know you have in fact been sitting here for over half an hour, which is twenty-five more minutes that I said you could spend out of bed."

"I'm sitting down," John pointed out. "That's almost the same as lying down."

"In the way that it's completely different," Lam agreed. She checked John's IV bag, he thought mostly to punctuate the comment. "I'm going to get you a wheelchair."

"It's fifteen feet," John protested, feeling like a whiny child. Forget getting her to give him lessons; he was going to get her to teach whatever magic she was using on him to Keller. Not that many people messed with Keller after a couple of attempts, but a few extra tactics to use on the more stubborn marines and the more egotistical scientists couldn't hurt.

"Which I'd be happy for you to walk, if you hadn't spent more than five times as long out of bed as I said you could," Lam said over her shoulder as she retrieved a folded wheelchair from the corner and brought it over.

"So this is punishment."

"Basically," Lam agreed. "Do you need a hand?"

John shook his head, even though the effort of getting himself into the chair made his thigh muscles shake. Maybe she had a point. "If it bothered you that much, you could have chased me out before," he pointed out, hoping to distract her.

She made a non-committal noise which suggested he hadn't succeeded, and wheeled him over to his own bed, offering a hand to his elbow that he accepted with as much good grace as he could manage. Lying in bed, he could still hear Lorne's heart monitor, the beat that had grown familiar over the last half hour. It was almost enough to make up for how he couldn't actually see Lorne any more, with the curtain drawn around his own bed. How had they made it through four years in Pegasus without Lorne sustaining anything more serious than a broken leg, only for him to be seriously injured in the Milky Way, on what wasn't even supposed to have been a dangerous mission?

Maybe his CO in Afghanistan had been right, and John did have some kind of curse, one that kept him mostly safe while the people around him got injured.

"Colonel?" Dr Lam said, drawing his attention back. "I'm going to leave this side curtain open a little, if you don't mind, so I can keep an eye on you from my office. There's only you and the major in here tonight, so it shouldn't be too disruptive."

John couldn't tell if she was telling the truth or trying to make him feel better. He wasn't sure he really cared one way or the other, since she'd succeeded at the latter. "Whatever makes you happy, Doc."

She raised one eyebrow at him, then nodded and left him alone.

John turned his head on the pillow until he could see the dark outline of Lorne under the sheets, feeling better.


John knew straight away that he was dreaming, because he remembered going to sleep in the infirmary and now he was back on the planet, hunched in the shadow of a rock overhang with the other two marines on his team, looking down at the torch-lit clearing where Lorne and Wallace were being held. Wallace was tied to a post in the middle of a circle of tents; Lorne was chained to the same post from his wrist, but he was in a heap on the ground, and John couldn't tell if he was alive or not.

"No visible injuries," one of the marines – John couldn't remember their names, either of them, though he knew he knew them when he was awake – said softly. For a second, he thought it was Ronon behind him, before his dream self shook off the memory. "They wouldn't have bothered with the chain if he was dead."

John nodded. He could see people moving about in the tents, between the torches. They were pretty heavily outnumbered, but they'd faced worse odds, and they were armed. And the other guys were just people, not Wraith or Replicators.

"Maybe we should wait for them to go to sleep," the other marine suggested. "Slip in under cover of darkness."

John nodded again. It was a good plan.

Right up until the second guard, the one they hadn't seen in two hours of waiting, slipped out of the tree line and shot John with a dart that made him go dizzy, fall over, and pass out.


Even though he'd known it was a dream, it felt real for a moment, waking up in the infirmary like he had after the mission and the rescue. Under the mountain, he couldn't tell how long he'd slept, but the infirmary was still quiet, the lights dim, and he assumed not that long. Lorne was still unconscious, Lam's office light was still on.

He should have said no when Lorne asked to come with him, especially when neither of their teams were with them. Lorne's were amongst the marines who'd been reassigned for the duration of the city's stay on Earth, emptying out the city as it became clear that they wouldn't be going back immediately after defeating the Wraith attack on Earth.

Even though they were John's guys too, he only missed them as part of the Atlantis whole. Not the way he missed his own team. He felt like it was two years ago, all over again, with Teyla and Ronon on the Daedalus as it made a trip back to Pegasus with Woolsey, keeping up some of their diplomatic links out there.

"You'll be back, right?" John had asked, standing with the two of them and Rodney before they were beamed up. "We'll be back, but..."

"We'll miss you, is what the Colonel is trying to say," Rodney had said smugly, flaunting the social skills he'd been practicing on Keller. John had rolled his eyes and said nothing.

"We will see each other again," Teyla had said, and no-one had pointed out that it wasn't an answer.

"Can't leave till -"

"All the Wraith are dead," John had finished in chorus with Ronon, who'd smiled wryly.

John had wanted to say, "You know we'll be going back, right? You know the city will go back, Earth won't keep it," but he hadn't wanted to hear the answer.

Part of him wished they were here; he'd gotten used to waking up in the infirmary and having his team at his bedside. The other part really hoped that he'd be out of the infirmary and able to pretend nothing had happened by the time they got back.

Assuming they came back. Assuming Rodney didn't decide to stay on Earth and be famous, instead of going back to Pegasus with John and the team and Keller. Assuming Ronon and Teyla didn't decide to stay with the Athosians until Atlantis went back, or join up with someone else in their absence. Assuming Woolsey didn't get offered a new, less dangerous post, or Keller or Carson a position at the SGC; that Lorne didn't get promoted and kept at the SGC and Radek didn't take up some prestigious research position somewhere.

Assuming John himself wasn't reassigned someplace other than Atlantis, and what did it say about his life that he was maybe the only one who didn't have anything at home that he might choose to leave Atlantis for?


He woke up with a horrible feeling that he'd forgotten something really important, though he couldn't imagine what. Unless he really was so far gone that he was worried about his mission report being delayed because he was hospitalized while alien poison finished running through his veins.

Not that Landry would probably accept that as an excuse.

"Colonel, how are you feeling?" John was starting to think all the doctors at the SGC were female – he never seemed to see a male one.

"Like I was poisoned and held captive off-world," he said.

Dr Redden smiled cheerfully. "Good. I'm going to do a few quick checks anyway."

John made a face where she couldn't see. He thought he might actually feel worse than he had the day before, which was probably what he got for disobeying Lam and sitting up with Lorne too long. "How's Lorne?"

"Showing signs of returning to consciousness," Redden said, helping John sit up so she could listen to his lungs. "We're expecting him to wake up today."

John nodded, relieved. He figured no-one had passed on the message that they'd been injured to Rodney and Keller; even if Rodney hadn't insisted on coming back to check on John (not guaranteed, since it wasn't like John was dying or anything), Keller, who had struck up an odd but strong friendship with Lorne, would have done. They had to be due back from visiting Jeannie and her family soon; John had completely lost track of the days. "How much longer till I get out of here?"

"We'll see later today," Redden said, smiling serenely, like she knew just how much that was pissing John off.

There wasn't much to do in the infirmary after she left, since John didn't have his team to entertain him, and SG1, who were the only people he knew well enough at the SGC to bring him toys, were off-world. Which meant that, when his cell phone started vibrating on the nightstand, he was shocked, heart-pounding, out of the doze he'd fallen back into, and answered without bothering to check the screen.

"Good morning, John," Dave said, crisp and calm as always. "Did I wake you?"

The infirmary clock said it was half past nine, so John lied. "No. What's up?"

There was a pause – the not-good kind – then Dave said, "I said I'd call to confirm I could make lunch today."

Friday. Dave was in town on business, and they'd arranged to get together, and John had really thought it could only be Wednesday, at the outside. "I'm sorry," he said, wincing at how insincere it sounded. Especially when he'd actually wanted to see Dave – they'd both been trying since Dad's funeral, even more so since John had gotten back to Earth. "I really am, but I can't get away."

"More top secret business?" Dave asked, the same sharp, disbelieving edge in his voice that had been there at the funeral.

"Something like that," John agreed. He'd told Dave that he'd been posted back to the US for a administrative review of the assignment he'd been on, which didn't exactly allow for getting injured. "I'm – maybe we can do it another time?"

"I'm going back to Virginia tonight," Dave said. It wasn't exactly a no, but it wasn't a yes, either.

"I get weekends," John pointed out. Like Dave, it wasn't exactly an offer, and wasn't exactly not.

"I'm sure the girls would like to see you again," Dave said, and John hated this, hated how much it felt like when they'd been kids, neither one of them wanting to make the offer, ask the question. How was this harder than facing off with a Wraith Queen? No fucking wonder he was the only one of his team still on his own.

"I'd like to see them as well," John said. "I can – I don't know how long this thing is going to keep me here, but..."

"I'll call again in a couple of days," Dave offered, some of the warmth seeping back into his voice.

John nodded, even though Dave couldn't see. "Have a good trip back."

The frustration – with himself, with Dave, with the situation and the people who'd drugged them and the IOA for not letting them leave yet, with the idiots in the other reality who'd done something without knowing what it would do and started this whole thing – lingered after they hung up. Redden wouldn't let him have a laptop, and his book was back in Atlantis.

He'd never thought he'd miss having to conduct military business from an infirmary bed.

He tried to sleep, but didn't really manage to do much more than fall into a doze, full of jumbled, nonsense events. The only part that stood out was the one he really wished wouldn't:

He and Lorne had been in Lorne's office, plowing through all the paperwork that went with bringing back a city full of marines who should have been on Earth the whole time, the radio on in the background, still a novelty. They'd both stopped when the news came on, when it mentioned Afghanistan, three marines killed in a roadside ambush. "The families of those killed have been notified, and their names released: Captain James Kagan -"

John had stopped listening, caught the same flash of knowledge on Lorne's face that he'd known was on his own.

"I thought it was a training position," Lorne had said, sounding numb.

"Like this is deep-space radio telemetry," John had said. The joke had fallen flat, tasted like ashes in the back of his throat. Kagan had been with them on the planet with the Wraith hallucination machine, survived that and a dozen other things that Pegasus had thrown at them, and now -.

Two days later, Lorne had asked to go with John, and John, figuring he knew how Lorne was feeling (trapped, anxious, helpless, sad) had said yes.

For all of the good it had done either one of them.


John's dreaming and knows it, and can't wake up. The IOA are lined up on the gate room floor in Atlantis, and he doesn't know how he knows it's them because they're all wearing clown masks, but he does. They're listing off all of his failures, all the people who died on his watch, all the times he wasn't fast enough or good enough or smart enough, starting with Ronon dying on the hive ship when John wasn't there and going backwards. They've already passed Elizabeth and Carson (the first time) and Ford, who might not be dead but probably is, and John knows they're getting close to Sumner, to John shooting him. He wonders if they'll keep going after that. Probably. He can hear the open wormhole behind him, and in his dream it sizzles, it sounds like something burning – like someone burning, like a helicopter going down in a fireball over the desert – even though in reality it doesn't sound like anything at all.

Brendan Gall, they say – they all speak as one, their faces not moving – and John wants to point out that he wasn't even there for that one, that Gall shot himself, except that he knows it doesn't matter. He should have protected Gall, and John's had his life drained and given back to him, which means they could have saved Gall, if they'd just known.

John knows what will happen when they get to the end of the list. He doesn't think there will be anything on the other side of the gate, and he doesn't know if he wants them to keep going or wants them to get to the end.

- take them back to Atlantis, the IOA say, and John thinks, "Wait, what?" and snaps awake.

The infirmary was dim, but the office door was open, casting more than enough light for John to see two female figures standing by Lorne's bed. He recognized one of them as Dr Lam, but the other one had her back to him, and it took him a moment longer to recognize Keller's blonde hair.

"Not right now," Lam said.

"Of course not," Keller said, a touch of Rodneyesque impatience in her voice. "But when the first shuttle goes over in the morning. Evan's well enough to be moved."

Lam nodded. "He was awake for a couple of hours this afternoon, no disorientation. I think being out for so long actually did him some good."

Keller's arm moved – looking through Lorne's chart, John assumed – and she nodded. Neither of them seemed to have noticed that he was awake, and there wasn't any mileage in faking sleep.

"Hey, Doc."

Both of them turned, surprised, and Keller grinned, abandoning Lorne's chart and coming over to John's bed. Good to know someone wanted him, anyway. "Colonel Sheppard. What did I say about staying out of trouble while I was in another country?"

"No-one expects to be shot with an arrow," John pointed out.

Keller smiled, leaning one hip against the side of the bed. "You and Rodney can start a club."

John looked around, couldn't help it, even though he know that if Rodney had been there, he would already have been talking, regardless of the injured people trying to sleep. "Left him in Canada?" he asked, hoping it sounded more like an idle question to Keller than it did to him.

From the sympathetic look that flitted across her face, it didn't. "He had to go back to Atlantis. He was here, but you were asleep."

Rodney didn't usually bother about waking up John when he was sleeping off an injury, but John knew what Keller looked like when she was lying, and he didn't think she was this time. Not that it helped with the flare of disappointment and – jealousy? Envy? Keller had had Rodney for a week, Atlantis for the two weeks before that, and now, when John wanted him, Atlantis came first.

He shook his head at himself, appalled by how pathetic he sounded in his own thoughts. It wasn't even like anything that traumatic had happened to him – other than seeing Lorne collapsed and thinking he was dead. Other than Captain Kagan's body being flown back to the US, when he'd managed to survive Pegasus.

"Sure," he said, faking a smile for Keller that she returned with a frown. "Did I hear you say you're springing us, or was I dreaming that?"

Keller kept the frown up for a moment longer, then sighed. "I'm taking you back to Atlantis," she said, sounding like she was correcting him. "I am not signing you back on duty, and that is not authorization to try to break Evan out of the infirmary, or to start holding military command meetings at his bedside."

"I don't know what you're talking about." John didn't even need to fake the innocence, not really. Not on Lorne's part, anyway; Lorne had been awake and mostly oriented, but he hadn't looked healthy by any stretch of the word. John spent enough time yanking people from infirmary beds they should have stayed in because he had to, without doing it when he didn't.

Keller didn't look convinced. "I've got my eye on you, Colonel," she said, warningly, then patted the edge of the mattress, like she wanted to do it to his arm but knew it wouldn't be appreciated, and replaced his chart. "Go back to sleep. Home tomorrow."

That sounded really good, even with Ronon and Teyla missing.


"I always thought getting out of the infirmary would be easier with the head of medical on our side," Lorne said at 1100 the next day, when he was lying fully dressed on one gurney, an IV still running into his arm, and John, who had been released from the infirmary, was sitting at his bedside, feet up on the bed.

"She's not head of medical here," John pointed out.

"I meant Lam," Lorne said dryly. "Usually, the SGC can't wait to get rid of us."

"Maybe they're worried we'll steal Atlantis and skip the galaxy," John suggested. "It's not exactly unprecedented."

Lorne made a so-so head gesture. "Easier than stealing a jumper and fighting off the Replicators."

"Don't let Landry hear you say that." Lorne had mostly escaped the backlash of John and the others' run on Atlantis a couple of years ago, since he'd been off-world for a week before it happened. Which John still sometimes teased him about – he dreaded the day Lorne got deservedly promoted and they lost him, but there'd been more than one occasion where he really could have used Lorne instead of Beckett.

"You think we'll be going back?" Lorne asked. "I mean, soon."

John nodded. They had to, even if he had to steal Atlantis to do it. After everything they'd done – everything he'd done – he couldn't let Earth steal Pegasus' best hope for defeating the Wraith.

"Sir?" Lorne prompted.

"Yeah, of course," John said, aware that he didn't sound enormously convinced. "It'll all be fine." Maybe, for once.


John walked with Keller and Lorne down to the infirmary when the shuttle took them back to Atlantis, and hovered until Keller started threatening to readmit him, at which point he decided a strategic retreat was the better part of everything, and headed out into the city proper. It was still mostly empty, only a handful of scientists and marines sticking around, and John trailed his hands along the walls, just to feel like he wasn't completely alone in corridors that should have been bustling and weren't.

He found Rodney down in the labs, arguing with Zelenka in what may or may not have been English. Zelenka noticed him first. "Oh, Colonel, you are back."

"Looks like," John agreed.

Rodney turned at his voice. "Colonel. I thought you were staying at the SGC."

"Your girlfriend sprung us, till she's ready for us to go back on duty." John hesitated, waiting for Rodney to say something. "Jeannie okay?"

"She's fine." Rodney made an odd face, then glanced sideways at Zelenka, who didn't see him. "Radek, weren't you going to..."

Zelenka gave Rodney a blankly amused look, obviously not impressed with his attempts at subtlety. "I was not, but I certainly can. Colonel."

Rodney watched him go, then came around the lab bench to peer at John. "You look terrible."

"Good to see you too, Rodney," John said, putting just enough sarcasm into it that Rodney probably wouldn't realize how serious he was. The SGC was nice enough, for a place without any windows, and it made a difference having Lorne there with him, but he'd missed Atlantis and his team more than seemed reasonable, even after those six weeks when the Ancients had taken back the city.

"Well, of course," Rodney said dismissively. He came too close, looking like he was about to start checking John's pupil reaction or something. "Are you sure you shouldn't still be in the infirmary?"

"It's not like I was shot."

"Actually, it is." Rodney glared at him for a long moment, then stepped back. John tried not to sigh too loudly in relief; Rodney's moments of perceptiveness struck at the oddest times, and John wasn't ready to tell him about Kagan, or Dave. "Are you busy?"

"Maybe," John said, hedging his bets.

"Which means no." Rodney waved him to a stool. "We haven't gone through the retrieved Ancient tech box in ages, sit there quietly and don't blow anything up."

"I could have actual work to do," John pointed out, undermining his own point by pulling out the big blue tub they used for things they'd found but which hadn't seemed important on first glance.

"You're on medical leave and we're in the wrong galaxy," Rodney said, heading back to whatever he was working on. "You're probably bored out of your mind."

John ended up sitting in the lab all afternoon, playing with toys while Rodney and Zelenka argued their way into a solution to whatever the problem was, then joined them for dinner and talked Rodney into a game of chess after. It was almost normal – almost enough to make him forget the last few days. At least until Rodney walked him to his door and said goodnight.

His quarters were pleasantly familiar, but it felt weird to be alone again after a couple of nights in the infirmary with Lam and Lorne there as well. Even though he usually hated trying to sleep when there were people there; maybe being back on Earth had shaken him more than he'd thought.

Either that, or meeting up with the team to find that Ronon had died on the hive ship.

Keller liked to give him sleeping pills whenever they had a really bad mission, even though she knew John hated them.

He contemplated it this time, but left them alone, and was grateful for it when he dreamed of the Wraith sweeping across Earth, of making it back to Virginia to find the drained corpses of Dave and his family.

He was too keyed up to sit still in the lab, bugged out mid-morning to hang out in the infirmary until Lorne fell asleep again. He tried to run, but Keller might have had a point about not being fit for duty yet – he didn't even get to the halfway point before he was out of breath.

Rodney caught up with him walking the length of the North-West pier, the longest in the city, trying not to notice that the view was all wrong. "You missed lunch," Rodney said, without preamble, and handed over a chocolate muffin, John's favorite.

John nodded his thanks.

"Jennifer's worried about you," Rodney added, falling into step with John. John waited, not sure what he was supposed to say in response to that. "She thinks you're, you know..." Rodney made a vague gesture at the side of his head that John didn't need to interpret.

"She tell you I'm nuts as my doctor or your girlfriend?"

"She didn't say you're nuts," Rodney said, hearing the actual point to the question. "Major Lorne told her one of your old marines was killed."

"Kagan," John said, returning the favor and answering the question that hadn't been asked out loud. "He was with us..."

"On the hallucination planet," Rodney filled in, and John was so glad he hadn't said anything about John shooting them. He closed his eyes, and for a moment, the sea breeze was hot with burning sand in the middle of the desert. "I didn't know he'd left."

John nodded.

"Were you... I don't know, close?"

John shook his head, unable to explain. Wishing for Ronon or Teyla, who'd get it more easily. "I'm fine," he said firmly. "Thank you for the muffin."

He could feel Rodney looking at him, but Rodney didn't say anything, just kept pace with John, oddly comforting in his silence.


John was down in the infirmary, checking in with Keller and Lorne, who was due to be released that afternoon, when Banks' voice came through his headset. "Sir? We could use you in the gateroom."

"What's the problem?" John asked, nodding a quick goodbye as he turned away. Their gate wasn't even operational – they'd shut it down to stop it over-riding the one at the SGC – and no-one was supposed to know they were there.

"No problem, sir, just unexpected visitors."

Someone must have come on the shuttle then. John took in the jeans and PT t-shirt he was wearing, since he was off-duty and there was hardly anyone left in the city, and groaned. Knowing his luck, it would be the IOA, or, worse, O'Neill. "On my way."

He heard voices as soon as he stepped off the transporter, half-familiar, and told himself he must be imagining it, because there was no way he could be hearing who he thought he was hearing, there just wasn't.

Except that apparently there was, because when he stepped into the gateroom, Ronon was there, talking to Rodney, and Teyla, her back to John, looking like her arms were crossed. Or, no, looking like she was holding something, which meant she'd brought Torren back with her, and John couldn't see Kanaan, which meant she thought they were going back -

"Hey," he said, too quiet. He felt like if he blinked, they'd disappear and he'd be left looking at an empty space all over again.

Ronon looked up, saw him, and broke into a grin, coming over to pull John into a hug, letting go before John could do more than start to tense up.

"John," Teyla said warmly, leaning in to touch their foreheads. Between them, Torren snuffled, probably unhappy at being ignored, and John breathed, letting the reality of their presence sink into him.

"Hey there, little guy." John pulled back slightly, smiling down at Torren, who wasn't looking at him. "When did you get back?"

"This morning," Rodney said, sounding insulted. "The SGC didn't even see fit to let us know that the Daedalus was back in the galaxy -"

"He means he's glad to see you," John put in, before Rodney's rant could get going. Teyla gave him a knowing look until John looked away. "How was your trip?"

"Long," Teyla said dryly. "Come, we will find tea, and you may tell Ronon and I of all that has happened while we were away."


It helped: being back in Atlantis, having his team back, having Lorne out of the infirmary again. Knowing that Teyla and Ronon weren't planning on leaving. The SGC called, asking if they wanted to pick up another mission and John turned it down, not entirely sure why he was doing so, or why he hadn't asked any of the others. Dave called as well, a couple of times, circling close to inviting John to visit, and John nodded along, not getting any closer to saying yes.

Things still didn't feel right. The IOA were still dragging their feet, John's people were still scattered across Earth... Life was just off.

"I never thought I'd actually start to resent having enough time to get my work done," Rodney grumbled over dinner in the mess one night.

"Think of all the discoveries you can make," Teyla said, not looking up from trying to persuade Torren to eat some more mushed carrot, her own food going cold.

"It would serve Zelenka right for running off back to his family all of a sudden," Rodney agreed. "Especially since he hates them."

"Here," John said. "Let me take him."

Teyla looked up, surprised, but handed Torren to John without question. Torren settled quietly into place, snuffling slightly and curling into John's body, small and warm. It reminded John, too strongly, of the one time he'd held Angela, Dave's oldest, when he'd been home on leave for her first birthday. "She's beautiful," he'd said, awed by how tiny she was, how easily she settled in his arms. He'd been around a few babies by then, but none of them had been his niece.

"Yes," Dave had agreed, reaching down to stroke a finger over her forehead. John had looked up, and the uncomplicated love on Dave's face had made his heart ache.

He felt it again, the echo of loneliness that didn't seem to want to go away. He wished they were back in Pegasus, where he was too busy going on missions and commanding the military to get lost in his head the way he was on Earth.

"Are you intending to take any time off while we remain here, John?" Teyla asked, dragging John back to reality.

Everyone was looking at him, which probably meant he'd zoned out for the context of the conversation. "I hadn't thought about it."

Ronon eyed him for a long moment, then said, "We should take a vacation. The team."

"We should?" Rodney asked. "Why?"

"Ronon is right – we have none of us had time off in recent months."

"I've just got back from vacation."

"Well, you are the only one. Perhaps the rest of us wish to enjoy the same." That was unusually snippy for Teyla, even though she'd said it in a completely neutral tone. It shut Rodney up, anyway.

"Where do you want to go?" Torren fidgeted in John's lap, reaching for his fork until John fed him a spoonful of carrot.

"Virginia," Ronon said.

"What?" John looked up, stunned, to find Ronon giving him a flat, unreadable look, and Rodney very involved in breaking apart a chocolate muffin while Teyla sipped her tea. "I – no. I don't – no. Why?"

Ronon shrugged. "Looked nice when we were there. Lots of space."

Taking Ronon back for the funeral had been bad enough. Taking his team, and Torren – John couldn't imagine it. Didn't want to. "No," he said again.

"Why not?" Rodney asked.

"Because..." John fed Torren some more carrot, mostly so he wouldn't have to look at anyone. He wondered if this was why Keller hadn't joined them, if he was being set up. Virginia was his mom leaving, the car accident that had killed her. It was the fights with his father, the long silences, the years when he hadn't been wanted there. It was Denise, his youngest niece, who he hadn't met until she was three, it was missing Dave's wedding, and spending his father's funeral chasing down replicators.

"It is your home," Teyla said. "Your – there is not a word in your language. The home of your heart. It should be a place of peaceful remembrance."

John couldn't stop the mocking laugh, still unable to look up. "You go, if you want to see it so badly."

"That pretty much defies the point, if we don't take you with us."

"I don't need babysitting, Rodney. Or for you to try to fix whatever you think is wrong with me."

"Oh, believe me, the list of things wrong with you is legion. I wouldn't even know where to start -"

"Rodney," Teyla said sharply, then, when he subsided, to John: "We would never try to fix you, John. Only to offer a gesture of friendship, when you need it."

Fuck. John was totally susceptible to anyone on his team saying stuff like that, stuff that made it so completely transparent that they cared about him. He knew they knew it too, but part of the reason it worked was that they never did it to manipulate him.

"I don't know what's wrong with going to the beach," he said, but it was a token protest at best, and he thought they all knew it.


They flew out two days later, none of the airline staff seeming to know what to do with three men who obviously weren't related and a woman with a baby.

"They think we're a polygamous quartet," Ronon muttered to John as the stewardess left them alone.

"I'm sure they don't," John said, instead of touching on Ronon's chosen phrase.

"Well, I for one intend to encourage them all to believe that I could have managed to get into a fourway marriage with three attractive people," Rodney said cheerfully from the seat behind them.

"I am not certain that Jennifer would approve of that," Teyla said mildly.

"Jennifer's taking advantage of our absence to cavort around the mainland with Major Lorne in the name of recovery," Rodney said dismissively.

"Okay, wow, look, safety briefing," John said, a little desperately.

By the time they checked into their suite, he was tense, anxious with proximity to Dave and the home they'd grown up in, and it was taking all of his patience not to snap at his team.

"John, perhaps you would be kind enough to put Torren down for me," Teyla said, handing him over before John could argue. "I think I would like a shower. Traveling by airplane is very... close."

"Um, sure." He tightened his grip on Torren, who'd fallen asleep halfway into the flight and stayed that way all the way to the hotel. "Come on, little man."

The hotel had set up a cot at the foot of Teyla's bed, and Teyla had laid out his pajamas. John sat on the bed to change Torren, and something crinkled in his jacket pocket where nothing should have been crinkling. He shifted his hold on Torren to dig it out, already feeling suspicious.

It was a scrap of yellow three-hole paper, and it read Dave Sheppard, then his work and cell numbers.

"Subtle, guys," John muttered. "Your momma is sneaky," he added to Torren, who ignored him. Which she was, but it wasn't like he didn't know they'd picked Virginia because Dave was there, trying to encourage him to reconnect.

He tucked Torren more securely against him, absolutely not doing it for comfort, and dug out his cell, scrolling until he found Dave's number in the address book.

Dave answered on the third ring. "John?"

"Yeah." John took a deep breath, feeling like an idiot. This was what he wanted. "I'm, er, in Virginia, actually. Not far from the house. I thought maybe..."

There was a moment's pause, then Dave said, "You should come for dinner. Andrea would love to see you, so would the girls." He sounded warm and pleased, and John breathed a sigh of relief. His team were very smart people.

"I'm here with some friends," he said, hesitant. "Ronon – you met him – and a couple of other people I work with. Um, and one of them has a baby..."

"I see," Dave said in a voice that rather implied he might think they were in some kind of polyamorous relationship as well. "They'd be welcome, of course. I'll let Anna know – tomorrow night?"

"Sounds good," John said, before he could change his mind. "I'm – it'll be good to see you."

"You too." Dave sounded like he was smiling. "And your friends."

The other three were waiting for him when he walked back into the main room, and Teyla blatantly hadn't taken a shower at all. "So?" Rodney asked, because he'd never developed patience.

"Dave invited us for dinner tomorrow night. Torren as well."

"We will be honored to meet your family, John," Teyla said, smiling like she was proud of him. Rodney was grumbling about having to socialize with the idle rich, even though he had to know Dave worked for his money, and Ronon was looking like he was thinking about food.

For possibly the first time since they'd heard that the Wraith were coming for Earth, John felt himself relax, his tension and anxiety drifting away in the face of his team's obvious care, Dave's welcome back into his life. It didn't make up for how much he wanted to be back in Pegasus where they belonged, but even that felt okay – like this was a vacation he wanted to be on, not something forced.

"Thanks," he said, mostly to Teyla, since Ronon and Rodney had gotten into a discussion about food.

"Any time," she said.

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