In the old days it would have been called a Coming of Age party, a chance for the boy or girl to show they had reached adulthood and could now sit at the big table with all the other adults. John's father had tried to make a huge deal out of John's coming of age, inviting over a hundred people to celebrate it with him, except John saw through the ruse. He knew the party had far less to do with him and more to do with his father 'networking' to drum up more business and keep Sheppard Enterprises in the national press. Tomorrow's magazines would be filled with celebrity images to sell to the 'unwashed masses' and John wouldn't be surprised if none of those images were of him. In fact he was hoping he would be able to avoid any publicity at all, preferring to remain in the shadows and leave the limelight to those who wanted fame and recognition. Fortunately his brother Dave was not averse to grabbing the limelight, which worked in John's favor.
Hugging a wall, watching the proceedings with a silent wish he could escape, he didn't notice the guy stopping to lean against the wall beside him at first. He did recognize the Air Force uniform though and felt a momentary pang of envy because his father had made it abundantly clear that he wanted both his sons working for the family business. At least his father had indulged John in his love of flying, allowing him the chance to get his private pilot certificate for small planes and helicopters just after his seventeenth birthday.
"She's a beaut," the man stated, and John looked through the nearby window at the Robinson R22, a coming of age gift from his father. "Most kids get a car and hit the road."
"I prefer the skies," John replied, and the man smiled.
John took a good look at the older man, seeing the one star that denoted his rank as General and the name tag. "What did you fly, sir?"
"Anything they'd let me," he laughed but sobered after a moment. "Helos in 'Nam. Med Evac mostly."
John nodded, and long after the party had ended and all the guests had gone home, John was still thinking of wide, blue skies, unaware he'd set his foot on the road to a far different future than the one his father had envisaged for him.
That road had led him through good times and black mark days to another galaxy, to Atlantis and the Puddlejumpers that became a part of him, follow his mental commands, which brought his thoughts back to the first time he allowed Rodney to take the controls.
He winced as the Puddlejumper tried to jump back to his mind when Rodney took control. He could feel the Jumper struggling to cope with Rodney's erratic thought patterns. The man might be brilliant but that brilliance came at a price as his mind hopped from one idea to the next, making the obscure connections that would solve problems and push forward the current boundaries of science. However, the Puddlejumper required a different mindset, a more disciplined mind. John felt the mental screech like nails across a blackboard as Rodney tried to pilot and talk to two scientists behind them at the same time.
"Ease up on the controls a little," he ordered. "Try to fly the 'baby' in a straight line."
"I am flying in a straight line," Rodney insisted; the Puddlejumper locked onto John's mind momentarily to superimpose the HUB over the view screen.
"Not so much," he replied, grimacing at the erratic path they were taking, but at least they were heading in the right general direction.
He smiled in fond remembrance. Rodney had improved his piloting skills over the years, less prone to taking his mind off the task. Almost flying into the side of one of the towers while blasting asteroids had been the shake up he needed, though he'd never be as good as John or Lorne. John settled back into his seat, allowing his mind and eyes to wander over the man beside him as they headed back to the world with the downed Wraith 'food' transport. In the six years since its discovery they'd never found the time or inclination to go back to it, leaving Ford to bring out the bodies of their two dead scientists and transport them back to Atlantis.
Six years had dulled the loss for Rodney but not erased it from memory. On the night before they left for this world on the edge of the Lantean solar system, Rodney had curled up against him and told him of those last moments with Brendan Gaul, and how Gaul had seen the changes in him since stepping through the Stargate onto Atlantis. It was not long after the big storm, the Genii invasion, and the torture Rodney had taken at Kolya's hand. Admittedly mild torture from a military view but for a soft civilian used to be being safe and snug in his laboratory, it had been traumatic. Life changing in ways too subtle to be noticed immediately. The silver line of the scar left behind was almost invisible to the eye but could be seen when a person knew where to look. It was obvious to John, who for the longest time saw it as a sign of his failure to protect the scientists in his care. His failure to protect the city from invaders.
He smiled again, wryly, as he recalled how Rodney had rolled his eyes when he finally admitted his failure and regret.
"Not everything in this city is about you, Sheppard," Rodney had scoffed.
Coming from the most egocentric person he'd ever met, John could only laugh, and maybe that's when he first realized he was in love with Rodney.
Beside him Rodney chatted on about the Wraith cargo ship and the technology they could study, and he leaned across as Rodney's hands began to leave the controls, needing to paint pictures with his words. His fingers rested easily on top of Rodney's, stilling both his hands and his chatter as Rodney glanced across at him.
"You are such a control freak," Rodney stated but the words held affection rather than bite, and as the Jumper's mental component connected to him without letting go of Rodney, John felt that affection thrum through him, linking them momentarily.
Rodney felt it too, eyes wide with shocked pleasure.
Lorne's voice through the radio separated them. "Is there a problem, Colonel?"
John tapped the control panel when he realized the Jumper had slowed to a halt, hanging in space while the Jumper containing Lorne, Stackhouse, and two other scientists shot past.
"No problem, Lorne. Just giving McKay a flying lesson," he quipped, ignoring the indignant squawk from Rodney, knowing he'd pay for the remark later but that wasn't anything to fear and could turn out to be fun because they knew each other so well now.
Six years of missions, of laughter and grief, of pain and joy, had led him further along the road, sometimes feeling lost and alone. What remained of his innocence was also lost along the way but the road had led him to Rodney, and to a realization that they were actually traveling that road together. He smiled brighter as the Jumper sped up, thankful for that day just over a month ago when he asked himself one question: why walk the road alone when you could fly together?