John heard Sam Carter say, "I'm sorry" and "your father" and "heart attack" and wondered why his lips and fingertips suddenly felt cold, numb, as if he'd played in the snow too long. Rodney, where was Rodney—no. Rodney was realigning the crystals for the stardrive, crawling through tight spaces and probably swearing in three languages. Maybe Teyla had come back from tea with Cadman and Esposito and talk of precision leverage and the applications of C-4. Then Ronon's hand came to rest on John's shoulder, where it always did, in the curve of his collarbone, and warmth rushed back through him, and relief.
"We got this," said Ronon.
John blinked and focused on Carter. "Thank you, Colonel."
She nodded, and John didn't miss the narrow-eyed glance she gave Ronon. "I'll make travel arrangements for you and your team. Do you want me to—?"
"We got this," Ronon repeated, and John nearly leaned back into him just to soak up Ronon's certainty, his generous strength.
John straightened his spine but didn't pull away from Ronon's hand. "We're good."
Teyla sailed into their quarters, majestic and glowing, followed by Rodney, quietly vicious over the comm: "You're fully capable of fixing that shield emitter, Simpson; you've fixed the ones here on Atlantis and you have the gene. Just because you don't go offworld doesn't mean you shouldn't. Now, pack your gear and get up to the gateroom; the Marines are waiting for you."
And John was so damned grateful when Teyla pressed against him, her full, round belly fitting neatly in the hollow of his hips, and Rodney's arms came around both of them, his forehead touching theirs. John's heart stopped racing as he breathed with them and breathed them in: the scent of Rodney's coffee and Teyla's tea and cookies, the scents they carried with them of Atlantis—sea salt and plastic, sunshine and burnt spices—and John's eyes burned as Ronon laid his cheek on John's head and gathered them all in.
"I'm fine," he said. "Really, I'm fi—"
Teyla kissed him, not without passion, and he felt the baby tumble against his groin with a lazy kick. Ronon nuzzled his head and slid one hand over his ass and down to cup the inside of his thigh. Rodney kissed the curve of his cheekbone, oddly chaste, while searching under his shirt for his nipple.
"Hey, now," John protested, "We really don't have time…"
Ronon said, "Plenty of time."
"Almost an hour to dial-out," Rodney added.
Teyla smiled and slipped her hand under his belt buckle, but John pulled her close again. The cold had melted away but the numb shock still left him distant from himself. "Teyla, I'm sorry, I can't—"
"I know. We know. There will be time for that later. All the time we need. For now, we need to be ourselves, together." She turned and towed him toward the bedroom. Ronon slung his arm around John's shoulders and Rodney pushed him along.
So damned grateful.
"Clothes," Ronon said. "We need proper Earth clothes for the Mourning Rites."
John quit kicking his heels against the exam table and looked over at Dr. Lam. "Do they still have—?"
"SL-25, just off the locker rooms," Lam said. "We're a little short on women's clothes, though."
"I have brought my own," Teyla said. "Captain Cadman told me black is the color of sorrow in your culture, and I chose an appropriate dress. She pronounced it 'awesomesauce.'"
"Awesome what?" Rodney popped through the curtain with an angry flourish. "Sheppard, that's it! Cadman never gets leave again; she comes back to Atlantis with so much slang it's corrupting our favorite aliens."
"Don't forget who're the aliens in our galaxy," Ronon said.
"Hey. We've adapted. Unlike Cadman."
John felt something shift and slide behind his breastbone. "Aw, Rodney, that's tame compared to the what the rest of the Marines say."
Ronon said, "You mean like—"
"Thank you, Dr. Lam," Teyla said quickly. "We will now be on our way."
"We will?" Rodney asked.
"We will." Teyla motioned him toward the door and John found himself almost smiling.
They ended up on SL-25 in the Murray Room, which was where Teal'c got his clothes for going out into the world. John and Rodney had brought their suits along to change. Ronon looked great in one of Teal'c's suits but Rodney's had a problem, which Teyla was quick to point out.
"Why are there holes in your suit?" Teyla asked.
"Oh, those don't matter—they're hardly noticeable." Rodney brushed at the jacket, dust rising around him.
"I noticed them," Ronon said.
"Says the man who's lucky enough to fit into Teal'c's clothing. My suit's been in storage for five years, all right? The moths got to it." Rodney poked a finger through one hole and the image gave John a wonderful, nasty thought for a few seconds.
"What's a moth?" Ronon asked, his bland tone alerting John to the fact Rodney was about to get trolled.
"A moth's an insect that likes to eat fabric. Especially the cheap kind," John said as he pulled on his shirt.
"My suit is not cheap! I'll have you know I earned a lot of pricey contracts with this."
John thought Rodney earned them with his brain and not the suit but didn't say as much. "Might want to find something less air conditioned, buddy. And a nice pair of boots to go with Ronon's suit."
"Boots are fine," Ronon said as Teyla presented her back to him to tie her laces.
"Your boots are as moth-eaten as Rodney's suit," Teyla said. "Rodney, not that one. It's ugly."
John groaned; ugly didn't cover it. "Try to stay away from the Goodwill section, McKay. It's a funeral, not a presentation at the Pentagon."
"Oh, that's cold."
John faked a smirk and tied his tie.
Ronon held out a black suit. "We gotta get moving. Try this one."
"Sure, if I want to look like an orchestra conductor," Rodney said sourly.
"Rodney," John warned. "Just put it on." He could feel impatience pushing at the numbness.
Teyla came to him and held his hands. "We are all but ready, John. Your family will not find fault with us."
John replied, "You look great," thinking, they'll find a way to pick us apart anyway; that's what they do.
They got out of the car, Rodney helping Teyla, and John looked out over the lawn. He wanted to run, run like he had as a kid, run like he had as an adult.
Ronon said, "Lot of people."
"Friends, family; the old man was well-connected." John wanted to warn them but he didn't know how. "C'mon. Let's get this over with."
John felt his back go straight as his brother walked down to meet them. He could see his father in Dave in a way he never could in himself.
"Dave." John braced himself.
"I wasn't sure you were gonna make it." And so it began. "It's good to see you. I contacted your unit commander at Peterson but sometimes those messages don't seem to reach you."
"Well, I came as soon as I heard." He knew he sounded defensive and he hated it. He took Teyla's arm and drew her forward. "Guys, this is my brother, Dave. Dave, meet Ronon Dex, Dr. Rodney McKay, and Teyla Emmagan."
"I'm sorry we must meet under these circumstances, Mr. Sheppard," Teyla said, shaking his hand. "Our condolences on your loss."
"You all work together in the Air Force?" Dave asked, giving Teyla's belly a disbelieving once over.
John felt more than saw Rodney and Ronon bristle but Teyla's hand came out in a familiar, graceful arc.
"Only Colonel Sheppard is with the Air Force," Teyla said smoothly. "We are civilian contractors."
"Right," Dave said, staring at John. "Anyway, John, I think we should probably talk."
John shoved his fists in his pockets. "You got something to say, say it in front of my team."
"We're more than willing to listen," Rodney said coolly.
"Your 'team'?" Dave asked, eyebrows up.
"We are team and family," Teyla said, and Ronon added, "You want one, you get us all."
John felt a frisson of relief as Dave backed away, palms out.
"I'll catch up with you later." He turned and walked up the lawn.
"Brave man, showing his back to you," Ronon said.
John said, "He has no idea."
John leaned on the fence, waiting for Rodney and Ronon to get back from the buffet.
"What lovely creatures," Teyla said, "I have never seen such before."
"Horses," John said, feeling at home for the first time. "I rode every day as a kid."
"Allergies," Rodney said behind him. "Dust, hay, dander, falling, broken bones."
"You are allergic to broken bones, Rodney?" Teyla asked. John caught her sly grin and returned it, breathing in her scent and the fresh air.
"He's allergic to life," Ronon said, bumping Rodney's shoulder.
"Just the dangerous parts of it," Rodney replied. "Speaking of which: who's the Chaya clone on our six?"
John looked over and, shocked, looked back across the paddock. "I told you I had an ex-wife, right? Here she comes." He turned around to see Rodney step away, hand out as if he were at a tech expo party and about to schmooze a competing contractor.
"Dr. Rodney McKay. And you are?"
John stifled a grin as Nancy almost skidded to a halt. She took Rodney's hand gingerly. "I'm John's ex-wife, Nancy Sheppard."
"You kept his name? How gauche." Rodney popped a shrimp puff in his mouth. "Nice to meet you."
John watched as Ronon came in from his right and introduced himself, smiling, then Teyla, welcoming as always. God, he was so damned lucky.
Nancy stood with her hands clasped and smiled kindly. "It's good to see you, John."
"Nancy, hi." He reached around Teyla to shake her hand. "Glad you could make it."
"Your father was always very kind to me."
John said, "Well, he always liked you more than he liked me."
Teyla leaned back against John and offered, "Some parents can be more affectionate with gathered children than they are with their own."
"'Gathered'?" Nancy repeated.
"In-laws," Rodney said around a bacon wrapped scallop. "Gathered children are in-laws. Sounds like you lucked out."
"Ah." She looked at John and stepped back, her eyes wide. "Gathered. How charming."
"Did you live here in this house?" Ronon asked. "Your whole family?"
"Oh, no," Nancy said, "John and I—"
"No," John said, "This is just one of the family homes. Dad's favorite. We lived here sometimes when I was a kid."
"Big house for one man," Ronon said.
"It is large but nonetheless beautiful." Teyla smiled.
"I take it your home is different?" Nancy asked.
"Yeah," John said, trying to avoid looking at Ronon or he'd bust out laughing.
"Well," Nancy said, "Congratulations, Mrs. Emmagan. I guess you'll have to baby proof it now."
"We'll have to work on that," John said, ignoring Rodney's manic grin.
"Thank you," Teyla said, "It was very nice to meet you."
"Yes, yes, of course," Nancy answered. "John, take care of yourself."
"You too. Hi to Greg."
"Whatever," Rodney muttered as Nancy walked away.
John watched her leave with disbelief. The day had been surreal and it was far from over.
Leaving his team at the doorway, John walked up to the coffin. Suddenly, it was all too real. Nancy and Dave were just distractions for why he was really here. His father was in this box.
John buttoned his suit coat and tried to tidy his hair, muscle memory from too many years under this roof. He was glad Dave had chosen a closed casket; he didn't want to see his father again or the frown lines of disappointment etched in the old man's face.
The numbness John had carried from Atlantis gave way to anger, rising slow but steady. He placed his hand on the coffin, surprised when it turned into a fist. He heard footsteps behind him, and Ronon's hand slid over his, long fingers working their way between his own. Teyla slipped under his left arm and Rodney leaned against his back, one arm going around his waist.
He stood in their shelter until he could bring himself to speak. "I always felt like his windup toy. Stick a key in my back and see how tight he could wind me up until I broke from it. The things I did, the things I've done, I did to escape him. What am I going to do now that I don't have to run away from him anymore?"
"Live," Ronon rumbled. "You've built a life. Live it."
But John felt empty, hollowed out. His father never knew the son he'd made. Had never wanted to know.
Teyla's baby rolled against his hip and gave him a good, solid thump. His son, maybe. Their son, the team's. They knew him, pushed him, took and gave. They wound him up but not to the breaking point; he never ran from them but always to them—and they to him.
They'd come here with him, hadn't let him face this alone. They were his family, not the man in the casket.
He'd built a life with these people; he'd lived it for years.
"We're done here," John said. "Let's go home."