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Broken Pieces

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Things can happen in the space of a heartbeat. A battered and weary gate team can step through the event horizon and be back safely in Atlantis, and a galaxy away an English professor can be robbed and stabbed to death in front of a bank's ATM three blocks away from his own home.

---------------

John was grateful that the Odyssey was in Earth's orbit when he and Rodney arrived from Atlantis. His cracked ribs were bound tightly, a souvenir from their last mission, and a plane ride up to Vancouver would have been miserable. Rodney was oddly quiet and had been since Elizabeth had broken the news that his brother-in-law, Kaleb Miller, had been killed in the course of a mugging gone awry.

There were many people at the house when John and Rodney arrived and a small throng of reporters lurking about outside.

John had never felt so useless in his life as he hung back in the doorway and watched Rodney envelope Jeannie in a hug. Her appearance gave him pause. When he had met her a few months ago during her visit to Atlantis she had been vivacious with a warm smile and a quick laugh. Now she looked numb and her skin had a greyish pallor. Her paleness was further accentuated by her eyes and nose, both red from crying.

Rodney was holding Jeannie close and whispering things for her ear alone. Finally they pulled back and Jeannie wiped her eyes and blew her nose on one of what seemed to be a hundred tissues hanging out of the pockets of her sweater. She finally registered that John was hanging back and she only hesitated a moment before stepping over and wrapping her arms around him.

John involuntarily let out a grunt as she squeezed his sore ribs and Jeannie looked up at him with a questioning look.

"Cracked ribs."

She instantly loosened her hold but didn't break the hug. "Thanks for coming, John."

"Jeannie, I'm so...," he started to say, only to have her press a finger to his lips.

In a hoarsely whispered plea she implored, "Please don't say it. I think if one more person says it I'm gonna start screaming and not stop."

He nodded and she lowered her hand allowing him to reply, "Okay then, what can I do to help?"

With a wane little grin she asked, "Keep Mer out of trouble?"

He gave her a gentle smile in return. "Deal."

---------------

Rodney and the others milling around the house watched Jeannie with John with an iota of curiosity. Rodney knew that she and Sheppard had hit it off when she visited Atlantis. But he also knew that Sheppard was fully aware that Jeannie was not only Rodney's sister and therefore off limits according to the unwritten guy code, but that she was also happily married with a daughter. And though Rodney might tease Sheppard about being the Kirk of the Pegasus galaxy, he knew that deep down Sheppard was an honorable man and would never make a move on a woman he knew was married. It just wasn't who he was. But Rodney was curious over their behavior.

What Rodney didn't know is that John and Jeannie had become friends in their own right. It was something that started the night before she left Atlantis when John had shown her the video Rodney had recorded. The following week, when Atlantis had its scheduled Earth dial-in, John had been surprised to receive an email from Jeannie thanking him for helping her to reconnect with Rodney. She had run off about how excited her daughter had been to see her home and how much she had enjoyed her stay on Atlantis and meeting everyone. She ended her email telling him to stay safe and to keep Meredith out of trouble. John had only hesitated a moment before sending a short reply and ended it by jokingly asking if she had any good childhood stories to taunt Rodney with. The next dial-in brought a five page reply. He found himself laughing out loud as he read her reply and he surprised even himself by answering her questions about his own childhood and non-classified things he had done in the Air Force. Their emails were full of everyday life sorts of things and Jeannie always signed off by telling him to stay safe and keep Meredith out of trouble. John had never had a pen pal before and he found himself oddly looking forward to each dial-in. It was an interesting friendship that John had never expected.

Neither John or Jeannie ever mentioned the emails or their friendship to anyone. Except Kaleb. Jeannie was completely incapable of keeping any secrets from her husband. He was accepting of their correspondence and occasionally would add a bit of his own commentary to whatever story Jeannie had typed up to send. And he and John would zing one-liners about college football that had Jeannie rolling her eyes.

Overall though, John and Jeannie figured that most people, Rodney especially, would not understand. And they were right. To the folks in the Miller's living room, Jeannie latching on to the handsome stranger that had arrived with her brother was a little... odd.

And if they thought that was odd, Jeannie politely evicting everyone except Rodney and John from the house was downright peculiar.

---------------

The next few days were extremely difficult. Besides the heartbreaking task of making funeral arrangements, they had to contend with the nosy reporters trying to get interviews with family. The media was turning Kaleb's death into some sort of soapbox about escalating crime in city. One reporter ended up with a near-death experience when he had trespassed and snuck up on a window in the living room where Madison was somberly drawing pictures. John had been sitting on the couch nearby keeping an eye on her while Rodney and Jeannie were in the dining room calling friends and relatives with the service information.

John had just turned the page on the paperback he was reading when Madison let out a bloodcurdling scream and ran to him. She pointed hysterically to the window and John saw the photographer leering in the window. Jeannie and Rodney hit the living room at a run and after passing Madison off to Jeannie, John had flown outside and was on the photographer in an instant. He restrained himself from beating the man to a bloody pulp but did hoist him up by two fistfuls of shirt and slam him against the house much to the displeasure of his ribs.

The photographer could see the red rage in John's eyes and simply nodded when John finally let him go with a growled, "Get the hell out of here."

The man made tracks back out towards the road and John picked up the camera he left behind. Efficiently John removed the memory card from it and as he headed back to the front door he yelled out at the photographer, "You forgot your camera," before lobbing it underhanded to soar well over the man's head. It landed in the middle of the road with a loud satisfying crunch of breaking electronics.

The other reporters were standing there in shock and John asked sarcastically, "Anyone else want to try trespassing?"

John got back into the house and closed the door before he moaned and gripped his screaming ribs. Rodney had to help John get to the couch. After a taking one of Carson's good horse pills and a quick call to arrange some security for the house, John and Madison spent the rest of the afternoon quietly watching her favorite cartoons while Rodney and Jeannie resumed their sad telephone duties.

---------------

If Rodney or Jeannie thought it was weird that Madison had practically attached herself to John's side, they never let on. The sight of Sheppard standing near Jeannie holding Madison's hand as he and others carried Kaleb's coffin did stick with Rodney but he didn't dwell on it. He knew Sheppard would keep Madison safe amid all the chaos of the funeral and he was grateful for one less thing his sister needed to worry about.

Jeannie knew full well why Madison was staying close to John. He made her feel safe. Madison had been terrified that the bad man that hurt her father was going to come to their house. This had been tearfully told to John by Madison and overheard by Jeannie in the middle of the night when John woke up on the couch to Madison trying to slip behind the crook of his legs to sleep. His actions with the photographer earlier in the day had made him a hero in her eyes. Jeannie had listened from the stairs as Madison told John of her fears as best as her little four-year old self could. John's kind and gentle response about being it being okay to be afraid and that he thought she was being very brave and that her father had been very brave had made Jeannie cover her mouth and quickly slip back upstairs to spend another hour crying herself to sleep. The next morning Jeannie discovered Madison tucked carefully back into her own bed with one of the ribbons from John's uniform grasped tightly in one of her little fists as she slept. That same ribbon that had been carefully pinned to her stuffed bear that she clung to throughout the funeral.

Back at the house where everyone gathered after the funeral, it was large crowd of friends and family, as well as Kaleb's students and fellow faculty. Kaleb's mother had been near hysterical at the funeral and she wasn't much better once they were back at the house. Her histrionics were frightening to Madison and she shied away whenever her grandmother tried to hold her. This added to the preexisting tension between Jeannie and her mother-in-law and when Madison started crying after another thwarted attempt by her grandmother to latch onto her Jeannie had had enough and she snapped, "Just leave her alone for god's sake."

A pin could have been heard dropping in the room. Jeannie and her mother-in-law just stared at each other for a long moment before Jeannie finally cleared her throat gently and said to Madison, "Why don't you play in your room for a little while, sweetheart."

Jeannie's eyes followed Madison upstairs and once she heard the door close to Madison's room, Jeannie turned and walked out to the backyard without another word to anyone.

The crowd started whispering and talking about what had just happened in hushed tones. Rodney asked John quietly, "You think I should go out there and check on her?"

John sighed and thought for a moment before answering, "Why don't you take Madison up a sandwich and a juice box, I'll go check on Jeannie."

"Why you?"

"Cause if she needs somebody to yell at it shouldn't be someone whose feelings might get hurt. You're just too close to her."

"You might have a point. I'll just, ah, go see about Madison."

John poured two stiff scotches and headed for the backyard. Jeannie was sitting on a little bench in the far corner of the yard just staring down at the grass. She saw John's shoes come into view and looked up. He gave her a little grin and held out a glass.

She took a sip and let the liquor slide slowly down her throat, savoring the burn. She asked wryly, "I didn't give her a heart attack did I?"

"No. But I did hear someone whisper something about definitely being able to tell that you used to be a McKay."

She snorted and took another sip. "I just want to get away from everybody. One more "I'm sorry" or "it was such a senseless crime" and I think I just might lose it. I've been thinking that getting out of Vancouver for a while might be a necessity for my sanity. I just don't have anywhere to go."

An idea formed in John's mind but he didn't bring it up, instead he replied, "Once all these folks clear out here and things quiet down so you can think straight you'll feel better."

Eventually it was Rodney that took care of evicting the masses from the house. And he did it in his normal, abrasive way. And Jeannie had never loved him more.

---------------

The next morning John found a little privacy and made a phone call that Jeannie would never know just how much it cost him to make. "Hi, Dad..."

---------------

Rodney and Madison were building some elaborate construction out of her magnetic blocks in the living room while Jeannie and John were in the kitchen. Jeannie was putting together lunch for all of them from the vast quantity of food left from the day before.

John reached over and stole an olive off one of the trays and casually mentioned, "So you still think you might want to get away for a while?""

"It would be wonderful to go and hide somewhere while I try and figure out what the hell I'm supposed to do now. But I have no idea where to go."

He stole another olive and asked, "You like horses?"

"I love horses. Why?"

John pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket and slid it across the counter to her. "My dad has a, ah, ranch. In California. You know, with horses. It's nice out there. Anyway there's a guest house that's yours for as long as you want it. It's quiet and no one will hassle you and Madison. There's a pool and a station wagon you can use if you want to go exploring."

Jeannie picked up the paper in disbelief. "I thought you didn't get along with your dad."

"It's not so much that we don't get along as we just haven't said more than dozen words to each other in the past decade. So anyway, his assistant's name is Margaret. That's her number on the bottom. Just give her a call with your flight information and she'll have a car pick you up at the airport."

"John, I don't know what to say."

He smiled. "You don't have to say anything. What are friends for?"

---------------

They had been on the Daedalus for their trip back to Atlantis a little over a week when John got an email from Jeannie.

"John,

Well we're here safe and sound. That was very sneaky of you to have plane tickets overnighted to me without even knowing if I was planning on going or not. And I can't believe you bought first-class. You're crazy. You do know that right? But thank you. And not to get mushy or anything, because I know you hate it, but I really don't know what I would have done without you and Meredith. This whole thing still seems like a bad dream and I keep hoping I'll just wake up.

Anyway, can't think about that too much right now. Madison is bouncing around here like a grasshopper waiting for me so we can go explore a little and if I start thinking about it too much I'll start crying again. So I'll sign off for now. Take care of yourself, John, and be safe. And keep Mer out of trouble.

With love, Jeannie"


Later on that evening, John met Rodney in the mess for dinner. In between shoveling food into his mouth Rodney managed to get out, "Got an email from Jeannie. I guess she and Madison are staying at a friends house in California for a while. She said she needed to get away from everything for a while."

Apparently Jeannie hadn't told Rodney exactly who the friend was, and that was perfectly okay with John. He replied lightly, "A change of scenery might be good for them both."

"Yeah. Um, you know I'm not good at this stuff, but thanks. For coming with me and everything you did. I know it meant a lot to Jeannie and Madison."

John didn't exactly know how to respond so he simply nodded.

A while later as they walked out of the mess, Rodney teased John, "You do realize though that I do have major blackmail material on you now."

"Really," was John's flat reply.

"Oh yeah. One little slip about how exceptionally paternal you can be and your entire tough guy image will be shattered forever."

John just raised an eyebrow in response. Rodney snorted back a laugh and teased further, "Do I really need to mention the dancing teddy bear incident? Or the myriad of high squeaky voices you can produce while reading fairy tales?"

"That was for a private audience, McKay."

There was a little hint of an edge to Sheppard's reply that registered with Rodney and he let the matter drop. If he knew anything about John Sheppard, it was that when the man chose to be protective of something it was all or nothing. And under the circumstances, if Sheppard wanted to be protective of Madison, Rodney didn't see a downside to it. In fact, it relieved Rodney a little that there was someone else besides him that would look after his sister and niece. And there honestly wasn't anyone that Rodney would trust more to be a surrogate big brother than Sheppard.

---------------

Jeannie and Madison spent a month in California. And it was apparent after the first Earth dial-in since they got back that Jeannie had written John every day that they were there. None of the emails were extremely long but she shared all the little daily adventures she and Madison had.

Towards the end of their stay in California she and Madison sent a video message. To John's observant eye, both of them looked good. They had a little color from the sun and they both looked relaxed. Jeannie was a little thin, but the pain had eased out of her eyes a bit. He smiled at Madison animatedly telling him all about the horses. She was particularly impressed with a horse named Stella that was the granddaughter of John's first horse. Madison held up a crayon drawing that he gathered was supposed to be Stella and he heard Jeannie chuckling from behind it as she told him that by the time he got their video that Madison's artwork would be on its way to him. Madison said her goodbye and scurried off and once she was gone Jeannie refocused on the camera and told John that coming to the ranch had been exactly what they needed. She signed off by telling him to be safe. And it wouldn't be until months later that he would realize that that was the start of her leaving off the "keep Mer out of trouble part".

---------------

Five months later John was back on Earth, the Ancients once again in command of Atlantis. He tried settling into life at the SGC but it wasn't Atlantis. About three weeks after getting back he was in his office counting down the minutes until he could escape for the weekend when there was a light knock on the door. He bid them enter and his shock was evident on his face when it was Jeannie that walked in.

"Jeannie." He stood quickly and stepped towards her. "This is a certainly a surprise. What are you doing here?"

When he didn't initiate any sort of physical contact, Jeannie took matters into her own hands, literally, and gave him a big hug. When they pulled back she answered his question, "I'm actually relocating to Colorado. The SGC wants to hire me as a full-time consultant and with you guys being back I thought it might be nice to live closer. So I'm here signing paperwork and house hunting."

"Wow. That's big news. Does Rodney know?"

"He's been the one pushing the SGC to make me the offer."

"Is Madison with you?"

Jeannie caught the hint of excitement in John's question and she answered lightly, "Actually she's spending a little time with Kaleb's parents. I'm trying to mend fences there." Jeannie privately thought it was a shame that John didn't have any children of his own. She could understand why it wasn't practical for him to settle down and start a family, but she still thought he had all the makings of a wonderful father.

John nodded in acknowledgment and said, "That's too bad. I mean that I won't get to see her, not that she's with her grandparents."

Jeannie chuckled. "I know what you meant. Do you have plans tonight?"

"Not really. Why?"

"Buy me dinner?" She asked with a playful grin.

---------------

O'Malley's was busy and boisterous, just as it was every Friday night. Over dinner they caught each other up on all the things that simply didn't fit in their emails. John couldn't remember the last time he had enjoyed a simple conversation more. Jeannie was once more the bright and vibrant woman that he had first met what seemed like a lifetime ago; it was really hard to believe it had only been a year. She was in the middle of telling him some silly story about college with a wide smile and her hands flailing about in typical McKay style when she caught John staring at her.

She paused in her story telling and asked, "What? Do I have food in my teeth or something?"

John grinned. "No. Just... you look good, really good."

Jeannie dropped her eyes and blushed. She nervously tucked her hair behind her ear and then met John's eyes. "Thanks. I'm sorta taking one day at time. Pretty trite huh?"

John reached over and clinked his beer against hers and said, "Nah, I think a lot of us take one day at time."

The waitress chose that moment to bring over the dessert they had decided to share, neither having room for a whole one. Their easy conversation returned and it was as she was bringing her second bite to her mouth that John noticed she wasn't wearing her wedding ring. A quick glance let him know that it hadn't been moved to her other hand either. He wondered if that was significant.

John knew that Rodney and some of Jeannie's other friends had all been pestering her to start getting out there and dating again. John had gotten a three page email sharing with him exactly what she thought of all their pestering in language that would make a sailor blush. He knew that she would start dating when she was ready, and if the appreciative looks the other men in O'Malley's were giving her were any indication, her finding interested guys wasn't going to be a hardship. And if he felt a little twinge of jealousy at that thought he made a point of ignoring it.

---------------

John drove her back to her hotel. He was surprised to see the posh hotel. "Fancy," he teased.

She shrugged with a grin. "Mer treated. I think he really really wants me to take the job here."

John gave her a raised eyebrow and asked, "I though you said you had already decided to take the job when you came here."

Jeannie plastered a perfectly innocent expression on her face and replied, "I had. But he didn't know that."

Her innocent expression lasted only a few seconds before they were both laughing. In the middle of their chuckling at Rodney's expense, she tugged on his sleeve and said, "Let's go have nightcap in the hotel bar."

There was a man playing an acoustic guitar softly in the corner of the bar and the atmosphere was pleasant and mellow. John was enjoying a glass of really good scotch and Jeannie a glass of a warm and nutty Merlot. One nightcap had tuned into two and John knew that two was likely to turn into three and a cab ride home was in his future. But he didn't care. He couldn't remember the last time he had been this relaxed and enjoying himself so much. He was lazily leaning on an elbow as they talked and enjoyed the music. And even though he was looking right at her, he never saw it coming when Jeannie leaned in and kissed him.

And whether it was the alcohol, or her perfume teasing him, or the planets aligning just perfectly he didn't know, but he wrapped his hand her hair and kissed her back. He couldn't not kiss her back.

When they broke the kiss and she pulled back a bit, he could see the anxiety in her eyes. And as his calloused thumb gently stroked her cheek, she babbled nervously, "I know what you're thinking. It's not the wine. Although I admit I don't think I would have been brave enough without it. And I knew I would have to be the one to make the first move. I didn't think you would ever. Just because... well... you know. I'm babbling aren't I? God, I'm nervous. Please say something."

The logical part of his brain was screaming at him to pull away and put some distance between them. But that part was overruled by other parts of him that wanted and he whispered, "This is such a bad idea," as he pulled her in and kissed her again.

---------------

The room was dimly lit by the little light over the vanity near the bathroom. Jeannie was flitting around the room like she was a hummingbird strung out on sugar. John leaned on the edge of the low dresser and watched her for minute or so before grabbing her hand and pulling her in close. "Jeannie, we don't have to do this."

Jeannie rested her forehead to his chest and her voice was low as she said, "No, its not that. I want to do this. I do. I just haven't been with anyone other than...," she paused then continued, "in so long, I forgot how to be with someone new. And now I'm here with you and you're, you know, John Sheppard and I'm just me and I'm suddenly a little freaked out."

He put his arms around her and gave her a squeeze and pressed a kiss to the top of her head. His tone was gentle and a touch playful as he said, "I'm just a guy. A guy that had a great time tonight with an amazing woman. A guy that's honestly a little worried about embarrassing himself because it's been a while since he's been with anyone, new or old. And a guy that will kiss you goodnight and leave if you want him to."

Jeannie looked up and met his eyes, the truth and caring that she saw in them strengthened her courage and she said, "I don't want him to go," before kissing him fiercely.

---------------

John hands that could so deftly wield a P-90 or coax the most complex of maneuvers out of a puddlejumper betrayed him by being unable to undo the buttons down the front of Jeannie's shirt. He finally gave up tormenting her neck with his mouth so he could try to visually inspect the stubborn buttons in the dim light. Jeannie propped herself up on her elbows and asked, "What's the matter?"

"Just a little technical difficulty with the buttons."

She snorted back a giggle and asked, "They're for decoration," her giggles started in force, "the shirt is a pull-over."

John gave the buttons a final grimace and asked, "You think that's funny, do you?"

Her continued snickering answered that for him. Lightning quick he stretched himself out on top of her, his chest pressing against her pelvis. His eyes had a twinkle of mischief in them as she looked down at him. His face was hovering over her stomach and his hands casually pushed the bottom edge of her shirt up exposing a couple inches of skin. And before she could stop him, the sound of a wet raspberry being blown against her stomach filled the room. She squealed playfully and he teased, "Had to be done."

When her giggles receded she realized that he had slipped his hands under her shirt and was slowly pushing it up. His hands were warm on her skin and as he pushed up the shirt, his mouth was busy planting feathery kisses all along the exposed skin. The further he inched up the more aroused she found herself getting. When he finally slipped the shirt over her head and had his full length on top of her she could feel his erection pressing against her through their jeans and what they were about to do suddenly became very, very real.

His mouth found hers as his hands slipped underneath her back to unhook her bra. When he got it unhooked without any technical hangups he grinned against her mouth and wagged his eyebrows playfully. With a little tug he slid it off her arms and it joined her shirt somewhere across the room.

The instant she felt his hot breath on her nipple, Jeannie could feel the dull ache building down deep inside. With her hands fisted in the bedspread, her hips pressed forward of their own accord wanting more and he obliged. Shifting his weight he slid a hand down her stomach to the button of her jeans. She had the wherewithal to place a hand on his, pausing the action momentarily.

John looked up quickly asked with breathing that was a little on the ragged side, "What is it?"

She took a quick breath and said, "I'm really out of practice on all this but aren't we supposed to talk about safe sex?"

John just blinked for a second, trying to connect functioning brain cells together. Then he realized that he didn't have any condoms with him. He had laughed when he had finally thrown out the well past expired one that had been living in his Earth-side wallet since he had been stationed at McMurdo.

Jeannie offered up, "I'm on the pill, have been since Madison was born. So that's not an issue."

John sighed and said, "I don't have any condoms with me. In my own defense though, I hadn't exactly planned on my evening ending quite this way. But with you on the pill and my getting every blood test known to man after every mission I don't think we have anything to worry about. But it's completely up to you."

She responded by cupping his face in her hands and kissing him. It only took a moment for their ardor to return in full. And this time with his hot mouth on her breast and his hand unzipping her pants and slipping inside, there was no stopping. With just a little fumbling that had both of them grinning he got her out of her jeans. His own t-shirt joined the growing pile of clothes on the floor and this time when his mouth met hers she could feel the heat rolling off his body and the tickle of his chest hair. His dog tags kept succumbing to gravity and getting in the way and she giggled when he made a show of slipping them off and tossing them over his shoulder.

John couldn't remember ever being so uncoordinated in bed with a woman before. But then again he also couldn't remember so much laughter and playfulness or just enjoying himself either. And as he slipped his hand into her panties to find her wet and ready for him, he wondered if this was maybe how it was supposed to be.

The instant his fingers started slowly stroking, she could feel the first flickers of what was going to be an embarrassingly quick orgasm starting.

John knew she was close. Her grip on his biceps had tightened hard enough to leave bruises. And as his mouth left a molten trail down her neck to gently flick and tease her nipple with his tongue she let out a low moan and came long and hard.

When he felt her relax he stilled his hand and moved to kiss her. When his eyes met hers, she grimaced and said, "Well that was embarrassing."

He kissed her and teased, "Well I thought it was pretty cool from where I'm at."

She shook her head a little and grinned, "Well I think you still have too many clothes on."

"Well I can rectify that."

"Well what are you waiting for?" she teased even as more giggles escaped her.

John quickly stood up and shucked off his jeans and boxers and even in the dim light Jeannie could see that he was truly a beautiful man. Strong and lean, he was a model specimen of masculinity. His erection was large and strong and high and her own body squeezed involuntarily in anticipation of it being inside her. She refused to compare it to what she had been used to for so long. It wasn't fair to either man. But she couldn't help but wonder a little about what a man that looked like John Sheppard was doing in bed with her.

John placed a knee on the end of the bed and bent down and kissed one of her bent knees. He did the same with her other as he inched forward to kneel between her legs. He gently slid her panties off and tossed them aside. Starting on her thigh he placed teasing little kisses as he moved up her body and when he made her snicker yet again when he found a ticklish spot he decided right then and there that this was definitely how it was supposed to be.

John kissed her deeply as he nestled himself between her legs. Jeannie could feel his erection pressing against her, seeking entrance. But it wasn't working. And she frowned and thought to herself that he was big, but he wasn't that big. Then she felt his hands under her lifting her slightly and in one smooth motion he slid all the way inside her.

Jeannie exhaled a breath that became a groan pleasure as her body stretched and adjusted itself to accommodate him. And a powerful wave of need washed over her. She wanted him to move, wanted him to bring her crashing back over the brink with him deep inside her.

She was too wrapped up in her own sensations to notice the shiver that coursed through John when he had entered her. He knew he wasn't going to last long. And he wished he could blame it solely on the fact that it had been a very long time since he had been with anyone but that wasn't all of it. It was the fact that her skin was soft and her curves gentle against his own bony frame. It was the desire that had been on her face when she first saw him naked. It was the way her breast filled his hand. It was the way she somehow smelled like sunshine and fresh air and home. And it was definitely the way her body welcomed him in and enveloped him in a wet heat that was so tight he almost forgot how to breathe.

John set a pace that was slow and steady. It was torture but seeing the raw lust and need on her face made it worth it. And when she cried out his name and left bleeding half-moons on his back as she clenched even tighter around him it was really worth it. He managed to keep that pace going as her release waned. And then with just a couple of quick strokes he joined her.

Once his breathing had calmed a bit he kissed her deeply and gently pulled out. They managed to get under the covers and he spooned around her possessively and teased in her ear, "Now I'm a guy who needs a nap."

The sound of her sleepy little laugh was the last thing he heard before he fell asleep.

---------------

John woke to kisses being placed on his chest. A quick glance at the clock told him it was three o'clock in the morning.

Jeannie paused and asked lightly, "Awake yet?"

He stretched a bit and groaned pleasantly. He bent forward and kissed the top of her head. "Sort of."

She continued planting kisses and John found himself completely awake when her mouth found one of his nipples. He felt the first tingling of arousal that became full fledged instantly when she moved down and took him in her mouth. And if it had been a long time since he had last had sex, he couldn't even remember the last time a woman had used her mouth on him.

He didn't trust his hands and instead fisted them in the sheets where they stayed the whole time she licked and sucked and raked her teeth up and down his length. And fisted in the sheets was where they stayed until she had him hard enough to drive nails when she then straddled him and slowly sank down on him, and then, and only then, did he allow himself to move them to grasp her hips as she slowly rode him.

She had been holding the sheet across herself modestly and John gave it a little tug and whispered, "Let me see you."

He had seen her earlier but there was just something titillating about him seeing her naked as she moved up and down on him. She let the sheet go and watched his face has his hand reached up to trace the curve of her breast. If anyone had ever told her that someday that she would be the one to put that look of pleasure bordering on pain on John Sheppard's face she never would have believed it. But yet there it was.

He surprised her by sitting up, pressing himself even further inside of her making her gasp. His arms went around her and his hand on her back helped her keep her balance. Their movements built a slow and powerful orgasm that left them both limp and sated. And as he fell asleep with his head on Jeannie's chest listening to her heart beat John realized that he for the first time since he'd been back on Earth that he felt like he was home.

---------------

In the morning John woke before Jeannie and slipped quietly out of bed. He took care of his bladder's pressing need then put on his t-shirt and jeans and slipped his bare feet into his shoes. Pinching the room key from the table, he left the room without waking her up and headed for the elevator area. Picking up the house phone on the credenza there, he called room service and ordered them breakfast. Then as stealthily as he had left, he snuck back into the room.

Kicking off his shoes he crawled back up into bed. Morning sun was pouring in through the gauzy curtains and he leaning up on an elbow he took a moment to watch Jeannie sleep. Her curls were all in disarray around her face and she had a hand tucked up under her chin. He sighed, because as incredible as last night had been, here in the light of morning he wondered if it had been a mistake.

Jeannie rolled over and opened her eyes. "That was a heavy sigh."

"I thought you were sleeping."

"Just dozing. Everything alright?"

"I ordered us some breakfast."

"Mmm, that sounds good. But you didn't answer my question," she prodded as she leaned up on her elbow to mirror him.

John flopped over onto his back and scrubbed his face with his hands. He said to the ceiling, "This is the part that I'm not so good at."

Jeannie was confused. "What part?

He waved a hand lazily in the air and it reminded her Rodney for a moment. "This whole talking part."

She laughed, "We talked for hours last night."

"Yeah, but that was different."

Jeannie scooted over and rested on John's chest looking up at his face, her chin tucked on her hands. John's arm closed around her of its own accord, his hand stroking the soft curls of her hair. There was the slightest hint of teasing in her voice as she said lightly, "You're thinking we shouldn't have done this."

John sighed, confirming it without words, and she continued, "And you're worrying about what Mer's gonna say when he finds out."

He didn't sigh again, but he finally met her eyes and she went on, "And you're worrying that I might want more than just last night."

John swallowed hard and nodded slowly. Her brow furrowed and she said gently, "John, we're both grownups the last time I checked. And what we do is our own business, not Mer's or anybody else's for that matter. And as far as me wanting more? I don't really know what I want. But what I do know is that I'm not looking for a new husband and I'm really not ready for any sort of a heavy relationship right now. I just want to feel alive again with someone that wants to be with me." She grinned and added, "And you know, maybe have great sex every now and again."

He grinned and nodded but didn't say anything and Jeannie asked, "But that's all about me. What do you want?"

John's eyes found the ceiling again and he cleared his throat stalling for time. "You know I tried the marriage thing and it didn't work out so well. I don't know if it was me or the job or some combination of the two that ended it. But I decided when I signed my divorce papers that I would just stick to more casual relationships. Nobody gets hurt that way."

Jeannie heard something in his tone and asked, "You really loved her didn't you?"

John answered honestly, "Yeah. But sometimes loving somebody isn't enough."

Jeannie didn't say anything right away and the quiet moment stretched out in the room. Finally she chuckled and said, "Friends with benefits."

John wasn't following and replied, "Huh?"

"Friends with benefits. You hear that stupid phrase on television all the time. That could be us."

John looked at her beaming smile, looking for all the world like she had just solved some age-old puzzle, and he just shook his and grinned back. "Friends with benefits, huh?"

A knock on the door signaled the arrival of breakfast and John got up and took care of the room service delivery. Jeannie had slipped on her t-shirt and panties and teased as they sat at the little table eating, "You up for more benefits after we eat?"

She had chosen that exact moment to bite into the lone strawberry that had garnished her pancakes and John could only stare and try and figure out exactly how far in over his head he was.

---------------

The rest of the weekend passed quickly, and Monday morning many in the corridors of the SGC noted that the sullen mood John had been in seemed to be much lighter. More than a few bets were placed that there was a woman involved in the transformation.

John was at his desk reading his next mission's briefing report and eating a sandwich when Rodney called. He blathered on about incompetent assistants and other normal McKay gripes for a while then said, "I'm having dinner with Jeannie tonight. She finally decided to come on board full-time."

John froze and took a second before carefully responding, "She mentioned that on Friday."

"Hmmph, for some reason I thought you were supposed to be off-world on Friday or I would have told you she was going to be around."

"I was supposed to be off-world but... well let's just say that I feel like I'm living a Three Stooges episode sometimes. And this time it was Larry in the infirmary."

"Ah. Sorry. But hey listen, I've been thinking about Jeannie. With her coming down here to live and us Earth-side what do you think about me trying to fix her up with Carson?"

John was thankful that he had chosen a bottled water with his sandwich and not milk because Rodney's question made him spray it all over his office. As he choked and tried to mop up the mess Rodney continued babbling.

"Rodney, don't you think it might be better to let her find her own dates?"

"Are you kidding? Little Miss Prim and Proper? I think she intends to be a widowed spinster for the rest of her life."

John flashed to the memory of Jeannie arching back against him as he took her from behind in the shower with her hands entwined tightly with his against the wet tiled wall. Little Miss Prim and Proper? He just couldn't put the two concepts together.

Rodney was still talking, "...and since I won't be there you're gonna have to look out for her at the SGC. You know, make sure that some Neanderthal with more biceps than brains doesn't swoop in and take advantage of her. Carson will be a much better bet for her."

Long after he hung up with Rodney, John thought about the conversation. And he couldn't argue. Carson was a good man, and probably a much better fit for Jeannie than John could ever think of being. But the little twinge of jealousy he had felt at O'Malley's flared again and it took John going down to the range and burning through more than a few clips to have the feeling tamped back down.

---------------

Three weeks later John was once again standing on a balcony watching the sun set on Atlantis. Their mission was a success. They saved the city and O'Neill and Woolsey. John hadn't been able to say goodbye to Jeannie in person. She had gone back to Vancouver to pack up her life and he had only been able to manage a very cryptic phone call. He knew she would understand. But he couldn't help but feeling like he left something important undone back on Earth.

Missions resumed and so did his email correspondence with Jeannie. She was settled into the new house and was making friends among the SGC personnel and their families. Madison was starting kindergarten and was making new friends of her own. Jeannie was apparently fitting in well work-wise at the SGC. And as John read the emails describing their day to day adventures he found himself wishing sometimes he were there sharing them.

A couple of months later John found himself stepping through the Stargate and arriving back at the SGC. The IOA wanted an in depth debriefing about the status of Atlantis. The meetings were grueling but spending the evenings with Jeannie and Madison made up for it. There was just something reaffirming about eating a home-cooked meal and listening to Madison tell him all about her new dance class in between bites. The simple domesticity was never anything he though he might have wanted in his life. And even as he reached over and straightened the sparkly tiara that was about to fall off Madison's head he didn't know if he could do this all the time. But later on, when he was deep inside Jeannie and the bedroom was full of hushed whispers and giggles he knew that somehow a part of him didn't want to be anywhere else.  

---------------

Back on Atlantis the months went by and John dealt with Rodney's near ascension experience and piloting a decrepit shuttle carrying the last of a people to land safely. And when the unspeakable happened, John and Rodney brought Carson home.

Rodney traveled all the way to Scotland with Carson. John saw them off on the plane and spent the next few days with Jeannie. She had never seen John like this. He was quiet and distant and she had no idea how to comfort him or if he even wanted her to. It was ultimately Madison that broke through to John. She crawled up next to him on the couch were he was sitting, staring out the window. "Are you sad?"

He lifted his arm and Madison snuggled closer and he said, "Yeah, I am, honey. I'm sorry I'm not any fun right now."

"Mommy said your friend went to heaven and that's why you're sad."

John didn't trust himself to say anything and just nodded. Madison dropped her eyes and whispered, "My daddy's in heaven."

John gave her a little squeeze and whispered back, "I know, sweetheart, I know."

"You think your friend will see my daddy?"

"I don't know. Maybe."

"I miss Daddy," she said as her face scrunched up and she started to cry.

John pulled her into his lap and just hugged her as she cried. And a little while later that was how Jeannie found them, except they were both sound asleep. She draped an afghan over the two of them and let them be. When they woke from their nap, both of their moods were back to almost normal but Jeannie could tell John's lightheartedness was being forced for Madison's benefit.

After spaghetti and meatballs, a silly Disney movie, a bath, and not one but three bedtime stories, Madison was finally in bed and asleep. And John and Jeannie were in the shower, where she was holding him tightly as the hot spray from the shower masked his tears. When both the hot water and John's emotions were spent they went to bed themselves. And this time the laughter and playfulness in the room was replaced by an aching tenderness and a powerful need to connect.

John wasn't moving. He was deep inside her, their legs entwined, but he wasn't moving. Propped on his elbows with his hands in her hair, he was kissing her like it was all he ever wanted to do. He pulled back and his voice was hoarse and his eyes sad as he whispered, "I'm falling in love with you."

Jeannie stroked his cheek and whispered back, "I know."

John buried his face in her neck and pressing even closer, very deliberately began to move. His slow grinding pace soon had her coming long and hard and his mouth found hers to muffle her cries. He stilled and let her catch her breath. The sad look was still haunting his eyes as he whispered, "I just... if something were to happen to me, I don't want you to think it was all just about this, cause it's not."

John was worrying her. The raw need was coming off of him in waves. Gently she said, "I know it's not. I don't think that it ever really was, no matter what we told ourselves in the beginning." With that said she moved beneath him, urging him on as she whispered, "Make love to me, John. That's what this is and what it's always been."

With a groan he claimed her mouth again and did just as she asked. And a little while later when John sat up to get dressed and slip out of the house long before Madison woke up like he had every other time, Jeannie bought him up short with one word. "Stay."

And he did.

---------------

Jeannie clung to the words John had whispered in the dark when Earth lost contact with Atlantis. She had known about the strike being planned against the Replicator home world, she herself had worked on some of the calculations for the nukes, but losing Atlantis hadn't been part of the plan. When the word came down that Atlantis was safe and sound on its new planet Jeannie packed a bag and sent Madison off to visit her grandparents for the first few weeks of summer vacation before she browbeat Stargate Command into sending her to Atlantis to ostensibly help with repairs.

The trip through the gate bridge took practically no time at all and when she debarked from the puddlejumper the two men she so desperately wanted to see were both standing there. Rodney was busy and therefore distracted. He barely managed a quick greeting before he was tapping his ear piece and yelling at some hapless soul on the other end for their incompetence and turning to go, leaving Jeannie in John's care.

John took her bag and they made pleasant small talk as he showed her to the quarters she was assigned for her stay. The door had no sooner closed behind them then John pulled her into his arms. He had gotten her video message when contact had first been reestablished. The video message where she tried to be upbeat and make light out of the situation but had ended up crying towards the end. When he had first watched it, John had hated himself for being the one to make her cry, and now as all those same emotions of relief were overwhelming her again as she clung to him in person, he hated himself all over again.

Their personal time was cut short by Rodney in John's ear piece looking for Jeannie, and after washing her face to hide the evidence of her tears, Jeannie gave John one final quick peck on the lips before they headed out to get to work.

Later that night after Jeannie had told Rodney that she was going to bed and she headed for her quarters. She had barely gotten in the door when she saw John lounging on the couch with a life-signs detector in one hand and knapsack in the other. "C'mon. I've got a surprise for you."

The surprise entailed skulking about Atlantis as not to be seen as they made their way to a far off corner of the city and a room that was a favorite of John's. Facing the ocean, the room was glass on three sides as well as the slanted roof. The floor was covered in sand, perfectly white, soft sand. There were several wide, cushioned chaise lounges throughout the space and there were large planters that were full of small plants and flowers. It was almost tropical.

John gave Jeannie's hand a little tug into the room and the door closed behind them. The two of the planet's moons were rising and gently illuminated everything.

Jeannie looked around with wonder and John explained, "The Ancients used this room for meditation and working on ascension. The botanists cleared out all dead plants a while back and started trying to replace them with new ones. They're trying to make it just like it was when the Ancients were here."

"It's beautiful. I bet it's gorgeous during the day," Jeannie said as she made her way to look out one of the windows.

John was fishing things out of the knapsack and replied, "Reminds me of the Bahamas. All those white sandy beaches."

"I've never been to the Caribbean. Does it really look like the pictures in the magazines?" She asked as she walked over to where he was sitting on edge of one of the chaises.

He looked up from the bottle of Athosian wine he was struggling to open and with a grin said, "Even better. Tell you what, next time I can take some leave we'll plan on going to the Bahamas. You and Madison'll love it."

His eyes dropped back to the bottle in his hands but both he and Jeannie registered a heartbeat later what he had just said and he looked up to meet her eyes. It was a big sort of step for them- taking their relationship out into the light of day. And even though that thought was terrifying a little all on its own, there was also a little sliver of excitement about it at the same time. She knew that although they really needed to talk about that, now didn't feel like the time for it. So Jeannie smiled and teased, "We're going to need really good sunblock."

John chuckled and with a little pop, managed to get the wine open. Jeannie kicked off her shoes and crawled up on the chaise next to John. He handed her a glass of wine and settled back on the chaise with his arm around her. The moonlight dancing on the ocean was beautiful and they enjoyed the simple quiet time alone.

They were on their second glass of wine when Jeannie admitted, "I got really scared this time."

John pulled her in closer and pressed a kiss in her hair. "I know."

He couldn't promise it wouldn't happen again, so he didn't, and she was grateful for that.

---------------

They finished the bottle of wine and were both a little silly trying to reverse-skulk their way back to Jeannie's quarters. She made some comment about feeling like a teenager trying to sneak in after curfew and it had both of them laughing and they missed the blip on the life-signs detector. They turned the corner and walked smack into Radek.

Radek froze in place and just looked between John and Jeannie for a moment as if he didn't trust what his eyes were showing him. John shrugged and said simply, "Athosian wine."

Radek pushed up his glasses and nodded. "Ahh. That last batch had much kick to it. Be sure to hydrate yourselves before you go to sleep or you will have head with marching band inside it in the morning."

Jeannie giggled, "Thank you, Radek. Good night."

She and John continued on their way and Radek shook his head as he watched them go, and wondered for a moment if there was some way they were a couple. They seemed to be entirely comfortable with one another. And John had been very solicitous of Jeannie with his hand on the small of her back as they walked. Then he thought that they couldn't possibly be because Rodney would have long since exploded over the man he calls Kirk going anywhere near his sister. But yet there they were- together. It was a puzzle.

---------------

They made it safely back to Jeannie's quarters and once they were inside she teased, "Radek won't say anything. He loves me."

John deliberately stepped towards her and walked her backwards to rest against the wall. He dipped his head and kissed Jeannie deeply and countered a little possessively, "Zelenka likes you. I'm the guy that loves you."

"Say that again," she demanded with a grin.

"Zelenka..., " he started to say only to receive a playful swat on the arm from Jeannie.

"The other part."

His eyes were gentle as he said sincerely, "I love you."

The smile she gave him was one that he swore could have illuminated the entire city. And she said what he had been longing to hear for quite a while, "I love you, too, John Sheppard.

They made love that was silly and playful and it erased all the recent worry as they reconnected. And after drinking their requisite water, John spooned behind her and they slept.

---------------

Jeannie was sitting in the middle of the mussed bed looking throughly debauched. She had slipped her t-shirt and panties back on and, after finding them underneath herself when she got up, John's dog tags. John was in the bathroom and came out in his own t-shirt and boxers holding a toothbrush. "You sure?" he asked.

She laughed, "John, we've shared various and sundry bodily fluids. Somehow sharing a toothbrush isn't quite that big a deal."

John shrugged and turned back to the bathroom. A second later there was a chime a the door and before Jeannie could react Rodney simply burst in carrying a data tablet and babbling on excitedly about an idea he had. Jeannie stood up and in what felt like an almost weird slow motion effect John stepped out of the bathroom brushing his teeth.

It took Rodney a couple of blinks to register what he was seeing.

John swallowed the toothpaste in his mouth and said, "Oh, crap."

Rodney's eyes couldn't have gotten any bigger and he kept opening his mouth to say something but words failed him.

Jeannie tried, "Mer, it's not what you think."

Rodney's sarcasm flared and he snapped, "So you didn't have sex with the Captain Kirk of the Pegasus galaxy and I'm just hallucinating that you're both running around in your underwear and that those aren't in fact his dog tags around your neck?"

No one was going to take that tone with Jeannie when John was around, brother or not. "Don't talk to her like that, McKay."

Rodney rounded on John and for a second John thought there might be a punch coming his way but Rodney just glared and spat out, "I can't believe you. She's my sister. She's not one of your little alien floozies you can just use and toss away when you're done."

"Mer, it's not like that. I love him and he loves me."

"Oh grow up, Jeannie. A one night stand doesn't mean you're in love."

John sighed and said, "It's been... more than just last night, Rodney."

"What?"

Jeannie said quietly, "Mer, we've been seeing each other since I came down and signed my contract and bought the house in Colorado."

That brought Rodney up short and he did some math in his head. The volume level of his voice dropped and he said with a twinge of hurt, "That was months and months ago. Why didn't you tell me?"

John said gently, "We were worried about how you'd react."

Rodney met John's eyes and said sadly, "Yeah, well, now you know," before turning and walking out without a backwards glance.

---------------

Rodney was unbearable, more so than usual. He wouldn't even look at Jeannie, never mind talk to her, no matter how many times she tried.

And after holding a sad and hurt Jeannie for two nights, John had had enough. He found Rodney working alone on a fried circuit panel and asked firmly, "McKay, can I talk to you for a minute?"

Without turning around Rodney said dismissively, "Sorry, no time right now. I'm busy trying to patch the city back together."

"Rodney, please. We need to talk about this."

Rodney sighed and dropped the tool he was holding back in the tool bag before turning to face John. Seeing John standing there being all Sheppard-like with his hair and slouch was too much for Rodney and he furiously gave John a big shove. The unexpected move landed John on his ass with Rodney standing over him shouting, "You slept with my SISTER! My sister."

John got up warily. He wasn't worried about being able to take Rodney in a fight, because that was sort of a given, but he really wanted to avoid one altogether if possible. "I care about her, Rodney."

Rodney's hands started flailing about as he ranted, "You can have practically any woman you want, why my sister? What'd you do, decide she was easy pickings her being a widow and all?"

John flexed his fists unconsciously, any man other than Rodney would have been picking his teeth up off the floor. "It wasn't like that, McKay. She and I started out as friends and then it sort of evolved into something else. We really care about each other and it's not just some cheap fling. I would never do that to Jeannie."

"I just can't grasp what possibly made you think this was a good idea. Besides the fact that she's my sister did you ever consider the fact that your job is dangerous? So what happens when she falls in love with you then you go and get yourself killed? What happens to her then?"

John's own voice raised several decibels. "Don't you think I know that?"

Rodney stepped closer and in John's face he demanded, "So if you know that, why let it go this far? You couldn't just let her meet some normal guy with a boring job back on Earth? Soldiers die, Sheppard."

Neither man had seen Jeannie approaching them in the hall and her quiet reply made them both turn towards her. "So do English teachers, Mer."

Rodney said gently, "Jeannie, I... didn't mean it like that."

She stepped towards them and said, "Yes, you did. I know that John's job is dangerous. And I know he could... die. But that can happen to anyone, anywhere. Kaleb was killed just a few blocks away from home getting some cash so we could go get ice cream for god's sake. I can't spend the rest of my life not caring about someone because they might die." Her chin had a defiant tilt to it belying the tears welling in her eyes as she continued, "I love John. He's a good, good man, Mer. You know that. And no matter what the future brings, I wouldn't trade the way he makes me feel for anything. I want you to be okay with this, Mer. I really do. But I'm not giving up what we have just because you don't like it."

"I just... I just want to see you happy. And I don't want to see you get hurt." The sincerity was evident in Rodney's voice.

"I am happy. And I know you want to protect me, but you have to trust me that I know what I'm doing."

Rodney nodded and didn't speak for a moment then fixed on John. "Do you love her?"

"I said that already."

"No. No, you didn't. You said you cared about her. There's a big difference. So I'll ask again- do you love her?"

John swallowed hard and answered honestly, "More than anyone in my whole life."

Rodney bent and retrieved his discarded tool back out of the tool bag and turned back towards the circuit panel and with his back to them he said quietly, "Don't you hurt her, Sheppard."

---------------

Time marched on, and the folks on Atlantis saw Samantha Carter appointed as the new head of the expedition. They contended with everything from Wraith-worshiping Satedans and a dream stalking doppelganger to a space-ship living people and a Pegasus galaxy childhood disease with horrible effects.

John was bone-weary when he stepped through the gate for a couple weeks of down time. And in short order he, Jeannie, and Madison were on a plane to the Bahamas.

When they pulled up in front of an ocean beach house instead of the expected hotel Jeannie asked, "John, I thought we were staying in a hotel?"

John winked and teased, "I never said that."

The taxi driver unloaded their bags and Jeannie took Madison by the hand as the door to the house opened and a tiny older woman stepped out. John's smile was genuine when he saw her. "Maria."

She held her arms open and said fondly, "John."

He stepped closer and bent low so she could hug him and give him a kiss on the cheek. Maria looked towards Jeannie and Madison and chided John, "You could have called an old woman and told her you had gotten remarried and had a daughter."

John stood there with his mouth gaping and Jeannie took pity on him. She extended her hand to Maria, "Actually we're not married. I'm Jeannie and this is my daughter Madison."

Maria shook Jeannie's hand with a grin. "Ahh, well. He still could have have called an old woman now and again. Especially one that used to change his diapers."

John grimaced and whined, "I thought you promised you were never going to mention that again?"

Maria just grinned and reached up to pat his cheek. Jeannie was completely enthralled by this diminutive woman that apparently had John Sheppard's number.

Maria bent down to place a gentle hand on Madison's hair, "I have known John since he was a baby. Even littler than you. I will tell you some stories about the silly things he used to do. Would you like that?" Madison nodded and John groaned. Maria chuckled and continued talking to Madison, "I have a granddaughter about your age. Maybe she can come for a visit and you can play in the sand together. Now how about we go see which room I've fixed for you?"

Madison took Maria's hand with a nod from her mother and they went in the house. John paid the taxi driver and turned to see Jeannie standing there with a her hands on her hips and a questioning eyebrow raised.

He shrugged and explained, "This is one of my dad's houses. He bought it for my mother as a wedding present. Maria lives here and takes care of the house. I've known her my whole life."

Jeannie shook her head. "You are just full of surprises, John Sheppard."

---------------

They had been enjoying their vacation for four days when Maria invited her granddaughter over and told Jeannie and John to go off and have a day for themselves. John seemed to have a destination in mind and he seemed lost in his thoughts as they walked down a long wooded pier. At the end he leaned on his elbows and smiled as he looked out. The breeze was strong and there were many sailboats and windsurfers in the sea stretching out around them. His voice was a little wistful as he said, "This was my favorite place when I was a kid. Maria would pack me a lunch and I'd ride my bike here and spend the whole day."

He only hesitated a moment before climbing up and over the railing to lean far out, barely hanging on by his finger tips.

Jeannie asked warily, "Is that safe?"

He deftly turned himself around to face her, a playful look on his face. "Oh yeah. See the way the wind hits this pier it pushes you back so you don't fall. Watch."

To Jeannie's horror he leaned back and let go of the railing and to her surprise he didn't fall, the wind had pushed him back upright.

"See? Now it's your turn." He extended his hand to help her over the railing.

"Oh, no. I don't think so."

After much more cajoling on John's part, Jeannie finally swung herself over the railing. He pried one of her hands off the railing and held it tightly in his as he said, "Ready?"

She let go with the other hand and had the odd sensation of almost being weightless. They tried it again and he finally got her to laugh albeit a terrified squealing kind of laugh. They hung onto the railing looking back down at the long pier for a while letting the wind buffet around them. John again seemed to be lost in his memories. With a grin he told her, "When I was nine this is where I decided I wanted to learn how to fly." He pointed to a bench a ways down on the pier. "And I had my first kiss sitting on that bench over there. I was ten."

He turned towards her and Jeannie expected another childhood anecdote, but instead he said seriously, "I want to marry you."

Jeannie could see a myriad of emotions in John's eyes. Nervousness, excitement, and even a little fear that she might say no were all staring back at her, but it was the love that outshone them all. Her smile was wide as she asked, "You wanna marry me?"

"Well since you asked me so nicely," he teased, playing on her words. Then he added, "How's this afternoon sound?"

---------------

Jeannie decided that John had apparently planned things carefully despite his casual manner. Unless of course he always carried the certified copies of his divorce decree and Kaleb's death certificate that they needed to get their marriage license along with a pair of gold wedding bands.

In a moment of complete and utter insanity, the type that their entire relationship seemed to be surrounded with, they were married on the beach wearing their shorts and sandals with other tourists looking on in amusement. The vows were simple, and the ceremony short and Jeannie probably couldn't have described what the officiant looked like afterwards to save her life. The thing she would remember though was the look on John's face when he slid the ring on her finger. It was like he just opened up the best Christmas gift ever.

They spent the rest of the afternoon walking the beach and talking about their future, something they hadn't talked about before. They touched on money and finances and some of the numbers John casually rattled off made Jeannie's head spin. And that was just his personal accounts, she didn't even want to think about trust funds and his family's holdings. When she had first married Kaleb money had been extremely tight. They had lived frugally and saved passionately for the things they wanted and took care of the things they had. She and Madison had never wanted for anything and Kaleb's life insurance had given them plenty to live on as well as a good college fund tucked away for Madison, but to hear John so casually mention simply writing a check to pay off the mortgage on her house almost made her hyperventilate.

John saw her moment of distress and said gently, "I've been getting hazardous duty pay for about a decade now, and it's not exactly as if I have a lot of things to spend it on in my current posting. It just sits in the bank gathering interest."

She digested that intellectually for a minute, her brain still balking at the idea and John used it as a segue and said, "You and Madison are my family, Jeannie."

There was a familiar playful glint in her eye as she teased, "Don't forget Meredith."

"Oh I haven't. As a matter of fact I'm expecting some fairly spectacular fireworks when he finds out. But going back to you and Madison for a second...," he paused and swallowed nervously before continuing, "I, ah... I want to adopt Madison. You know, officially."

Jeannie knew that John and Madison adored each other. And she knew that John wasn't trying to supplant Kaleb in Madison's life. Kaleb was gone and Madison deserved a father that loved her and John was stepping up to be that man. The idea that he wanted to make it official for the world to see made Jeannie love him even more.

---------------

They decided that they wanted to wait to let everyone in on their hasty wedding, at least until they could tell Rodney and Kaleb's parents face to face. Madison though, they went and sat with out in the warm sand and explained it to her. She was a little confused but took it all in stride latching onto the simple idea that John was now part of their little family "forever and ever and ever".

They made love that night with the bedroom windows open filling the room with the sound of the waves gently breaking on the shore. The sound was still filling the room when John woke to an empty bed. He looked around and spied Jennie over near the window, looking out at the starry night. He went to her and slipped his arms around her from behind. Jeannie sniffed and quickly tried to wipe away the evidence that she had been crying. John gave her a squeeze and asked, "You alright?"

"Yes. No. I don't know." She turned and buried her face in his chest. Her tears stared anew and he simply held on tightly. When she was ready she whispered, "I had a weird dream. I dreamed that I went back to our old house in Vancouver and when I knocked on the door Kaleb answered. And I told him all about you and I getting married and you adopting Madison. And... and he was happy that I was so happy. Then I woke up. I don't know what it means."

He pressed a kiss to the top of her head then said lightly, "You know for a long time after my divorce whenever something good happened I found myself wanting to pick up the phone and call Nancy. It took a while for me to get it through my head that she suddenly wasn't my best friend any more.  You and Kaleb had a great thing. You were happy and probably shared everything with each other so I think it's natural that you'd want to share this with him."

John tucked a finger under her chin and made her meet his eyes, and he said gently, "And I know that he would want you to be happy."

In a little broken voice she asked, "How do you know?"

"Because I would want you to be happy. That's what loving somebody is all about."

Jeannie sniffed and asked, "How do you always know what to say to make me feel better?"

"Sorry ma'am, that's classified."

Jeannie slipped her arms around John and held on tightly. They stood there like that for a quite a while until John broke the quiet moment. "C'mon. Let's go back to bed. We're gonna need some sleep if we're taking Madison to go swim with the dolphins tomorrow."

"We're doing what tomorrow?"

John chuckled. "Did I forget to mention that I made reservations for us to go swimming with dolphins tomorrow?"

"Yeah. You did."

"Whoops. I knew I forgot something."

They crawled back under the covers and Jeannie snuggled next to John and said, "You're incorrigible."

John yawned and replied, "I know. But you wouldn't have me any other way."

---------------

John was packing his go bag to head to the SGC and ultimately Atlantis. Tucked carefully in among his t-shirts were three framed pictures. One of he and Madison that Jeannie had captured when they were in the water with a dolphin. Another was one of he and Jeannie snapped by a fellow vacationer when he had taken her out for dinner and dancing their last night in the Bahamas. And the final one had been taken by Maria and was of he, Jeannie, and Madison as they were out on the beach building a sandcastle. His girls. His family.

Jeannie and Madison brought him to the mountain and the hugs and kisses goodbye were bittersweet. As he walked towards the entrance Jeannie called out, "John... be safe."

He gave her a little nod and a sloppy little salute and went inside.

His first stop was the personnel office. Because although they intended to keep their marriage under wraps for the moment, John still wanted his status changed officially. He didn't want there to be any issues for Jeannie should the unthinkable happen and he were killed. The young lieutenant in the office was efficient and the updates to both John and Jeannie's records were made without fanfare.

John's next stop was to see Colonel Reynolds. Jeannie and Colonel Reynold's' wife had hit it off when they met at the school picking up their children; Colonel Reynolds' daughter was in Madison's class. John knocked on the open door with a knuckle. Reynolds looked up and waved him into the office. "Hey, Sheppard. How was your vacation?"

"Can never go wrong with an island with a beach, sir."

Reynolds chuckled, "Tell me about it. My wife is due to start nagging me to go back to St. Bart's."

John grinned in response and Reynolds asked, "So what brings you to my office, Sheppard?"

"I was hoping you could ask your wife for a favor for me." John explained that he and Jeannie had gotten married and that he was hoping Reynold's wife could take Jeannie under her wing as a new military wife. Reynolds was happy for John. Good news of any kind tended to be rejoiced in at the SGC. He promised to keep it to himself until John and Jeannie made some sort of announcement and he also told John he would talk to his wife and they would both look out for Jeannie and Madison. John knew how tight-knit a family the Atlantis expedition was, but until that moment he hadn't realized exactly how much the SGC personnel looked out for one another. He made a mental note to be more cognizant of that from that point on and do his part when he could.

All too soon John was back in Atlantis and for the first time since he had stepped foot in the city, it didn't quite feel like home.

---------------

Barely a month and a half later John, Rodney, and Ronon were stepping off the ramp at the SGC to meet Agent Barrett. Apparently some time after dropping Madison off at the Reynolds' for a sleep over and receiving Rodney's email about nanites, she had been kidnapped. Mrs. Reynolds had driven Madison home the next morning and had seen the house in disarray and called the base. Madison was safe and sound back at the Reynolds' with a couple of SF's watching over them. John had to lock his emotions away and concentrate on the search effort. It wasn't easy.

In a lab a half-continent away Henry Wallace was cutting Jeannie's bonds and introducing himself. With the immediate threat of harm abated, Jeannie began to pray that the SGC would get her shiny new husband back to Earth soon so he could rescue her.

---------------

Rodney and Agent Barrett were working on Jeannie's computer and John found himself in a holding pattern. He went upstairs to the bedroom and sat at the edge of the bed and scrubbed his face roughly with his hands. His eyes fell to the assortment of photo's Jeannie had displayed on the dresser. Right next to a little wooden jewelry box that he had gotten offworld and given her for her birthday was large framed picture of him kissing her after they had said their vows. It had been snapped by a grandfatherly tourist that was a self-proclaimed hopeless romantic. He had emailed Jeannie the picture and she had been delighted to have the moment captured. John crossed over and opened the little box. Inside were a couple of her favorite bits of jewelry. And their wedding bands.

He was suddenly angry with the fact that they decided to hide their marriage. That ring belonged on her finger. It should have been there to let whoever took her know that someone loved her. That someone would be coming for her.

He picked up the two bands and closed his fist around them. He looked over at the picture and through gritted teeth promised her, "I will find you and god help whoever's got you."

---------------

John and Ronon went to check on Madison while Rodney and Agent Barrett continued to dissect Jeannie's computer. Madison was fine, and only vaguely aware that something wasn't right. But she was excited to see John and meet Ronon. Rodney called and told John that he and Barrett were on their way to where they thought Jeannie might be. When John and Ronon arrived at the location they found Barrett incapacitated and Rodney also missing.

---------------

When Ronon abandoned Barrett and John to their document search Barrett took the opportunity to say, "Colonel Sheppard, I just want you to know that I am doing everything I possibly can to find your wife."

John met the other man's eyes for a long moment, digesting the fact that of course the NID knew about their marriage, before saying, "I know you are. But thank you for saying it."

---------------

Jeannie and Rodney had uploaded the fixed nanite code and as they waited for news of results, spent time sniping at one another. Her tormenting him about marrying Katie Brown and telling him that physically he was no John Sheppard was too much for Rodney and he snapped back, "Just because you have carnal knowledge of John Sheppard's physique is no reason to compare me to him."

When the code fix didn't work Rodney heard Jeannie plead with Wallace, " I have a family, a husband, a daughter...," her words didn't really sink in.

---------------

When their rescue came it was quick and precise. John allowed himself one fast squeeze of Jeannie's hand before responding to Rodney's frantic demands to be beamed to the SGC.

In the infirmary Rodney was shouting at everyone in typical McKay style. John stood near the bed Jeannie climbed up on and she quietly explained to him what was happening. Once she did, John had the overpowering urge to snap Wallace's neck personally. Rodney wanted to put her into an induced coma to hopefully slow the nanites. The doctor was balking at following Rodney's instructions and he finally blasted, "I'm her next of kin, just do it."

The doctor looked at Rodney then to John and Jeannie and replied to Rodney, "Actually you aren't listed as her next of kin, Dr. McKay. Her husband is."

"Look we don't have time for this. Long story short, her husband is dead. So we're back to me."

From behind him John spoke up, "Doc, just do as McKay suggests. He knows what we're dealing with better than anyone."

The doctor just blinked for a second. Knowing full well that John was in fact said husband. It had been right there on the computer screen when he had brought up Jeannie's medical records.

They were about to induce the coma when John asked for a minute alone with Jeannie before they did. The medical staff complied, as did Rodney albeit reluctantly. When they were alone he pulled her into his arms and held her tightly. When he pulled back and met her eyes she said simply, "I knew you'd find me."

"I had help," he said modestly.

He kissed her lightly and when he spoke, his words belied the worry in his eyes, "Rodney's gonna fix this. You're gonna be alright."

"I'm scared, John." She whispered trying not to cry.

His reply was honest, "Me too."

He pulled her in close for a moment and let her heart beat against his. When he pulled back this time as Jeannie settled herself back against the pillows he fished something out of his pocket. He held up her wedding band for a moment before deftly slipping it onto her finger. He closed her fingers around it and covered her small fist in his hands. That was how Rodney found them when he burst back into the room, demanding that they get started.

---------------

John's brain was threatening to explode. First his wife was kidnapped in the middle of the night, then she's got rogue nanites inside of her that are going to kill her in their efforts to fix her, and now something that John had fought tooth and nail to prevent, something countless good men had bled and died to prevent was happening: a Wraith was walking through the Stargate and stepping foot on Earth.

When the Wraith collapsed before finishing the coding the argument between John and Rodney was explosive. John had a solution to their Wraith feeding issue, he just wondered how much of his soul it would cost him to do it. He stood in the doorway of the infirmary staring at Jeannie's still form with his hands deep in his pockets. Over and over again he ran his fingers over the ring hidden there as he tried to find the resolve to do what needed to be done. He turned to go and looked back over his shoulder at Jeannie one final time before pulling his hand out of his pocket and purposely putting his wedding ring where it also belonged- on his finger for all to see. Or at least Wallace.

---------------

Rodney was sitting beside Jeannie's bed when she finally woke up. He had been staring at the gold band on her finger and replaying her plea to Wallace in his head. There could only be one person that had put that ring there and it was the man that had made himself scarce since Wallace was killed by the Wraith. John Sheppard.

As Jeannie's eyes opened she realized that Rodney was holding her hand and absently stroking her wedding ring. When he saw that she was awake he teased, "Am I ever gonna get invited to one of your weddings?"

They spoke teasingly for a few minutes and Jeannie asked where John was. Rodney answered sadly that John had been avoiding everyone and then he explained why.

Jeannie's brow was furrowed in worry as she got out of bed, "Where are my clothes?"

---------------

John was hiding out at the range burning through clip after clip with his sidearm. He had fired it so many times that his right arm felt like jello. He had just switched it over to his left hand and was reaching for another clip when a gentle hand was placed on his, stopping him. He cleared the weapon and put it down before turning to face Jeannie.

"Hi," she said lightly.

"Hi," was his quiet reply.

John's eyes were haunted and she didn't know what to say to make it go away, didn't know if there was anything that she could say to make it go away. She reached up and palmed his cheek. She could feel the tension in his jaw as he leaned into her touch. He didn't make a move towards her and she finally just wrapped her arms around him and pulled him in close. His body was stiff and unyielding until his brain registered the smell of her shampoo. Then, even though it was tinged with the scents of gun oil and infirmary antiseptic, it made him melt into her. She somehow always smelled like sunshine and fresh air and home to him and it grounded him. He struggled to say something, anything, but couldn't and she whispered as she held him, "I know."

---------------

Jeannie and John were home with Madison. It had taken a few days but they were all starting to get back to normal. John still hadn't spoken to Rodney and was dreading it.

The doorbell rang and John answered it. Rodney was on the step when he opened the door. "McKay." John said in way of greeting.

"Sheppard." Rodney replied.

"C'mon in," John said and stood aside.

Rodney stepped into the living room and looked around, half-expecting to see things that screamed "John Sheppard lives here". But there wasn't anything. He rocked back on his heels nervously and blurted out, "So... you married my sister."

John rolled his neck around, trying to get rid of the sudden crick it had in it. "Yeah. About that...."

Rodney interrupted. "Look, Sheppard... John, I just want her to be happy. And some how, some way, you're able to do that. And I'm... well, I'm working on being fine with that. It's just... she's my sister you know?"

"I know."

"I'm only gonna say this once, and I'll deny I ever said it- but you're a good man John Sheppard. You're not perfect, none of us are, but down deep where it counts you're a good person. And I can't think of anyone with more strength of character than you. Recent events more than back that up. So if my sister insists on being married to some crazy Air Force pilot with semi-sentient hair I'm glad it's you."

John had barely gotten out, "Thanks, Rodney," when Madison bounded down the stairs and muckled onto Rodney. "Uncle Mer!"

Rodney bent and gave Madison an awkward hug. She beamed and asked, "Did you bring me a present?"

"Nope. I broke the rules again. But I tell you what, why don't you find your jacket and I'll take you shopping and you can pick out your own present."

She looked to John for approval. And it was in that moment Rodney realized that John wasn't just married to his sister, John had also gained a step-daughter in the deal and was now a father. And the three of them were a family. A real family.

At John's nod yes, Madison excitedly ran off to get her jacket and Rodney said to John, "I figure you two haven't had much alone time the past few days. I'll entertain Madison for a while. Take your wife out to dinner, someplace nice. She likes that."

---------------

They were settling into the puddlejumper for the ride back to Atlantis when Rodney looked over from the co-pilot's seat and teased, "Oh, by the way, don't think you're gypping the rest of us out of a bachelor party just because you had to run off and elope with my sister. Radek's already working on it and I think Lorne somehow got involved. I don't know whether we should be excited or afraid."

The jumper hovered for a moment in front of the activated Stargate and as John's hands moved deftly over the controls he grinned as he caught a glint of the wormhole reflected off of his wedding ring. Rodney was babbling on and on but John's thoughts were on the little house with a swing set in the yard and the family inside that he was leaving behind. His home. His family.

John gently urged the jumper forward through the gate and back to Atlantis as he was thinking of Jeannie and Madison. He would see them soon he promised himself, and in the meantime they became his reason to keep doing what he did best- keeping Atlantis and all the roads back to Earth safe.

---------------

Things can happen in the space of a heartbeat. A battered and weary gate team can step through the event horizon and be back safely in Atlantis, and a galaxy away in a little house with a swing set a second blue line can appear on a test stick to make a family of three unexpectedly become a family of four.

---------------
the end.