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Unmanifest Destiny

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The trip back to Earth on the Daedalus was miserable. Caldwell had his crew working double shifts to get all systems back up, which in this sense meant ‘hovering around 50%’ according to McKay. It also meant the journey would be almost twice as long, chugging on engines going half as fast.

Teyla’s baby hated space travel. It was that or no one had been around a newborn in long enough to remember that newborns hated a lot of things. He wasn’t sleeping, which meant neither was his mom. Sheppard wasn’t actually sure anyone was sleeping. Rodney was constantly being called down to glue shiny bits back on the engines or something. He seemed to be staying there ‘round the clock. Ronon chose to spend most of his time in the hamster cage that passed for a gym on the Daedalus. This wasn’t all that atypical, since Ronon wasn’t a big fan of sleep. But Sheppard knew for a fact that even if Ronon hadn’t been the one crushed under a heavy beam, he had recently survived the implosion of a gigantic building and Keller probably wouldn’t have wanted him doing any heavy lifting this soon.

Colonel Carter was lying awake at night, too. Her reason was slightly different. No one on Sheppard’s team was facing an evaluation from the IOA questioning the efficiency and success of the Atlantis mission, with the threat of the loss of her command on the table. It was hard to tell with the IOA, but Carter seemed to be taking the possibility pretty seriously.

“They aren’t going to remove you,” Rodney scoffed over dinner. He stabbed fiercely at the unidentifiable lump of meat on his tray. “This program’s lost enough people.”

“A number of those under my command,” Carter reminded him.

Teyla wanted to know if she could bring her baby to the interview. “I believe it may help if they could see the lives that were saved by this last mission,” she said, earnestly.

Rodney rolled his eyes. Carter gave a weary smile. Ronon seemed to be ignoring the conversation completely.

“Ah, Teyla,” Sheppard began.

“I appreciate the offer,” Carter said. “I’m not sure that would work, anyways. But none of you are being personally interviewed. The mission reports you all wrote will suffice.”

“I would like to speak on your behalf,” Teyla said.

“They don’t want to hear from two Pegasus aliens,” Rodney snapped. It wasn’t very nice, but it was probably kind of true. “You don’t have any standing in their eyes.”

Teyla frowned. Carter glared at Rodney but she didn’t deny it.

“And they don’t like McKay,” Ronon said, proving that he had in fact been listening.

“The only person they want to talk to is me,” Carter said, cutting off any kind of debate of just who the IOA disliked the most.

“It will be fine,” Teyla said. “You have saved many lives.”

“Let’s hope the IOA cares,” Rodney grunted.

For a second, Carter’s eyes shone brightly. She blinked and it cleared. “It’s not the living they’re concerned about, Rodney.”

~

The Daedalus dropped Carter off in DC for her interview. Then it did a little unofficial backpedaling and beamed Sheppard’s team to a predetermined spot on the opposite coast. It took seconds, of course, but still constituted a breach of scheduled navigation route. Caldwell didn’t mention it, sitting straight in his command chair.

“I’ll see you in a few weeks,” he said. He fixed his eyes on Rodney. “See that you fulfill your mission.”

“Mission?” Rodney repeated, twisting his face up. “It’s not a mission, it’s just – ”

But the shimmer of the beam seized them before he could finish, and they vanished from the Bridge.

As luck would have it, or not, they arrived in California in the evening. It wasn’t perfect timing. In the darkness, the city looked old and gloomy. In comparison to Atlantis, it always would have come in second, but it looked worse now. Ronon kind of curled his lip up at it. He didn’t really have a high opinion of Earth, having only been on it for a few, specifically terrible, events. Sheppard realized this trip was unlikely to change that, but at the very least it might show him some of the things that didn’t suck.

Teyla folded her arms more tightly around her swaddled baby.

“It is cold,” she said, hugging herself. “John has always said California is very warm.”

She had never been to Earth outside the SGC, and she didn’t look impressed.

“This is San Diego,” Sheppard said, apologetically. “It’ll be warmer tomorrow, in the sun.”

“The other choice was Malibu,” said Rodney. “I figured you and Ronon had never seen that many people before and would flip out.”

“I do not flip out,” said Teyla, while Ronon sneered.

“Actually the first choice was in Hawaii,” he continued. “But that would have required trying to get Mr. Knives R’ Us through airport security.”

“Nightmare,” said Sheppard.

“Stabbings everywhere,” Rodney said, gesturing with both hands at Ronon.

Ronon blinked at him, not really understanding and not caring to.

“You two sit on that bench,” Rodney ordered. “Try not to scare the Earthlings while I rent us a car.” He waved an index finger sternly. “Stay.”

And he went to all the trouble of backing into the car rental place entrance, as if he thought something terrible would happen if he took his eyes off them.

“He’s overreacting,” Sheppard said, soothingly. Ronon was glaring. Teyla ordinarily might have tried to defuse him, but her face was drawn and tired.

She settled herself on the bench, holding her son carefully. Ronon dropped heavily beside her.

“This is dumb,” Ronon hissed. He was doing a pretty good impression of a petulant child, which was not a good start.

Teyla adjusted the baby with one arm, so she could put the hand on Ronon’s knee.

“It is important,” she said, and she sounded just as tired as she looked. “I wish to see Earth.”

“Earth is dumb, too.” Ronon said, crossing his arms.

Teyla patted him on the leg. “It is important,” she said, again.

“Come on, guys,” Sheppard tried. “This supposed to be fun.”

Ronon had raised one hand to his face, covering his eyes. Teyla continued to pat him on the leg, eyes fixed on her baby.

~

It wasn’t really surprising, but Rodney managed to turn the parts of that trip that should have been the easiest into two separate fiascos. Part of it was Sheppard’s fault. The car he wanted apparently wouldn’t fit the car seat they needed. But, he hadn’t really anticipated making this journey plus one baby, so it was, in fact, Rodney’s fault. Instead of the convertible Corvette, he picked some ridiculous hybrid that ran on vegetable juice or something and looked like Ronon could crush it like tinfoil. And, to quote Ronon, it also looked ‘dumb’.

Size issues meant Ronon automatically got shotgun. He shoved the passenger side seat as far back as it could go, and his knees still bumped the dashboard.

“McKay,” he growled.

“Be nice,” Sheppard said from the backseat, where Rodney was struggling to install the car seat.

“Ungh – how the hell does this – where does that – Ronon, shut up – Teyla, put that strap there, no not there –”

The epic struggle with the car seat took so long, Ronon got out of the car and went back to the bench, where he glared balefully at the city. Sheppard went to join him, because the only help he’d been providing was comments on how McKay could keep an ancient city running but not install a simple modern child safety restraint device, and strictly speaking hadn’t actually helped.

He got the feeling Teyla thought the device was absurd and wasn’t sincerely trying to get it securely attached.

“I can hold my own child,” she said repeatedly, in between Rodney yelling instructions and cursing.

“No, no you can’t,” Rodney said. “His skull isn’t even solid yet! And half the people in this country drive like Sheppard!”

“Well,” Sheppard said, “maybe you shouldn’t have gotten a tin can on wheels, Rodney?”

But eventually the car seat was safely attached and the baby securely inside, even if Teyla acted like she was placing him in some kind of torture device. Mercifully, the kid didn’t even mind, and slept through the entire procedure. Sheppard scooted in next to him, watched the kid’s dark eyelashes flutter briefly before he decided that it wasn’t worth waking up.

Equally miraculously, he also slept through Rodney’s ranted instructions about seatbelts and how he’d murder them all if he had to pay for any damages since it was his name on the contract. Teyla and Ronon looked unimpressed, Teyla fumbling with her seatbelt.

“Why don’t we just get a Jumper?” asked Ronon, glaring at his trapped knees.

“Wouldn’t be the same, buddy,” Sheppard said.

“IOA wouldn’t let us,” Rodney said. “I asked.”

“Rodney,” Sheppard said. “Road trip.”

“Don’t blame me,” Rodney said, starting the engine. “None of this was my idea.”

“We should do this correctly,” said Teyla, reliably supportive even if she was still looking worryingly at her son.

The hotel was less of a fiasco and probably less of Rodney’s fault. There really wasn’t anyway to distribute two aliens of opposite sexes and a baby while still providing proper supervision. It wasn’t that they didn’t trust Ronon and Teyla, it was just far too likely that something innately Earthy would happen and one or both would react badly. In truth, this was more likely to happen with Ronon. In the end, Rodney booked a double with Ronon and Sheppard joined Teyla and the baby in an adjoining double.

Ronon and Teyla remained unimpressed by the hotel. In fairness, it was nice. There weren’t any bedbugs or needles in the carpet. But there probably wasn’t a Pegasus equivalent for a massive building with level after level of identical rooms. It might have felt a little institutional and maybe creepy. It was hard to tell, since Teyla was polite and Ronon was silent and wearing his ‘I hate everything’ expression.

It was late evening in California. Sheppard didn’t bother to do the time math, but it was safe to say that they were all messed up clockwise. Ronon didn’t really like to sleep period, but Teyla looked absolutely shredded and Rodney was working on enormous, blackened craters under his eyes.

Teyla went down first, curling up around her baby on top of the sheets, fully clothed all the way down to her shoes.  Ronon looked at her, then he looked at Rodney, and his face assumed an expression of martyred boredom.

Rodney rolled his eyes. “There’s a gym, Ronon. Stop pouting and go get your grunt on.”

It wasn’t a bad idea, even if Rodney delivered the suggestion as unpleasantly as possible. Sheppard noticed he failed to mention that he was leaving the hotel for a quick shopping trip. It was probably better than another insulting lecture about staying out of trouble. Rodney was only going to get away with so many of those before it got him into trouble.

Ronon vanished to find the gym. Rodney dashed off with the car keys in hand. For his part, Sheppard stayed and watched Teyla and the baby sleep. It was kinda nice and peaceful, after so long of not knowing where she was, and imagining terrible things Michael might have done.

Rodney, of course, managed to ruin the peace when he returned. He must have found a 24-hour Wallmart, because he came back with giant, overstuffed plastic bags and promptly woke Teyla to show her what he’d bought. To Sheppard it looked like a bunch of brightly colored plastic things, mostly covered with ugly designs intended for infants.

God knew what Teyla thought of it all, because she was blinking sleepily, trying not sound mad, and kind of repeating “what?” every time he opened a box.

“I called my sister,” Rodney said. “She said you need all this for the baby.”

Carefully setting her sleeping son to the side, Teyla sat up. She grabbed Rodney firmly by the shoulders and pulled him down so that he had no choice but to take a seat on the edge of the bed.

“Rodney,” Teyla said, enunciating forcefully while still keeping her voice hushed. “Thank you for these supplies. I greatly appreciate it. But what I need at this moment is uninterrupted rest.”

“Duh,” said Sheppard.

“Oh,” said Rodney, and at least he said it a little softer than his louder introduction of his purchases.

The baby had slept through all that, but he woke immediately when Ronon banged the adjoining room’s door open with his hip and walked into the room. The baby stirred, began to whimper, and soon transitioned into full blown wailing. Teyla grabbed the kid and shot a death glare at Ronon, standing in the doorway.

“Ronon!” she said.

“Don’t you know there’s a sleeping baby in here?” Demanded Rodney.

Sheppard would have pointed out Rodney’s hypocrisy, but his attention was caught by Ronon’s face. His eyes were red and shiny, lids swollen and pink.

“What the hell happened to you?” asked Rodney.

“The water has chemicals in it,” snapped Ronon. “In the pool.”

That was the point at which Teyla began to take her shirt off to feed the baby, and the men immediately scattered, closing the adjoining door behind them.

“It’s chlorine,” Rodney said. “To keep the water clean from the great unwashed, like you.”

“It burns,” Ronon said, and scrubbed at his face.

Rodney threw another Wallmart bag at Ronon, who let it bounce off his side. Not because he didn’t see it, of course, but because he didn’t want to catch it.

“I got you some clothes that normal people wear,” Rodney said. “You look like you marched out of a gay porno, you’ll scare the natives.”

Ronon said nothing and glared. Sheppard had had this argument with him the last time they were on Earth. Of the number of things Ronon thought were stupid about Earth, or at least the US, the fashion sense was at the top.

“Wear ‘em,” Sheppard said. Then to Rodney, “There’s no way you found anything to fit him at Wallmart.”

“Wait a minute,” Rodney said. “You were swimming? What the hell were you wearing?”

Ronon blinked at him out of reddened eyes. “Nothing.”

~

The hotel stay didn’t really give anyone much time to recover. Sheppard had wanted a few days for everything to settle, but his team had no intention of chilling out. Ronon, evidently, truly did not sleep. He liked to run in the halls, finding the gym puny and ill-equipped. He also kept swimming, even though it made him look like he’d been punched in the eyes. Ronon scared the ever loving crap out of the housekeeping staff for more reasons than the usual and Rodney made an immediate return to Wallmart to get him some swim trunks, which he delivered with a hilarious explanation about American mores about nudity.  Sheppard caught Rodney dolling out a few hundred in bribes to both employees and other guests not to complain about their nocturnal or naked encounters with him. He would have congratulated him on his quick thinking, but Rodney then proceeded to be extremely resentful about it and do more totally unhelpful yelling at Ronon. In general, Ronon had better social skills than Rodney and he was certain the female guests who had caught Ronon skinny-dipping weren’t unhappy.

The adjoining rooms meant everyone got to hear just how little Teyla’s baby liked to sleep. Rodney pulled the pillow over his face every night, but sometimes Sheppard went into their room and he could tell from the tension in his body that the man was too stiff to be sleeping.

Somewhat surprisingly, Ronon was good with kids. He couldn’t do the feeding part, but that only really amounted to half of the reason Teyla’s kid was usually screaming his head off. Maybe the baby had some innate understanding it was in the arms of someone who could eat him for breakfast and decided to quiet down, or maybe it was just happier knowing it was in the arms of someone who could also eat just about anyone else, too. Either way, it worked out well. Ronon also figured out the disposable diapers, which baffled both Teyla and Rodney.

“I do not understand these,” Teyla growled. Exhaustion made her impatience come out. It was kind of cute. “This is not what we use on Athos.”

Rodney tried to apply one, failed, and ended up coated in baby poo to his loud disgust. After that, they kind of left that task to Ronon.

After three days, it was time to start on their schedule. They had an appointment to keep with the Daedalus in only a little over a week, and the few empty days did nothing but enable everyone to start getting annoyed with each other.

Unfortunately, no one was really excited about the first stop. Ronon was pissed off about the floral print on his trunks. Teyla didn’t look the most comfortable in her suit, either. Rodney, of course, was not happy.

“Why am I wearing this?” Teyla asked. They’d had to go to a maternity store to find her a suit, and although she hadn’t said anything other than “I am no longer with child,” a bunch of times, Sheppard got the impression that annoyed her anyway.

Rodney looked down at the list he’d taken to carrying around constantly.

“Surfing!” Sheppard said, enthusiastically.

“Surfing,” said Rodney, and scowled. “And you have to wear clothes, Ronon.”

~

They’d booked a private section of the beach for a whole afternoon. Sheppard had had an old friend called in to give lessons. Duane was a friendly beach bum who’d also more than effectively fried some of his higher brain function on acid. He was hard to offend and generally had no business thinking anyone else was weird.

Rodney behaved just as Sheppard expected. He refused to take off his shirt and slathered every inch of exposed skin with some of his own homemade sunscreen, which meant he must have packed it for this express purpose. He also declared himself the official babysitter of the day, meaning he couldn’t possibly set foot in the water.

Teyla wanted to know if it was safe for Rodney to be covering her child with his sunscreen, and Sheppard thought she had a point. The kid was already wrapped in a too large bathrobe with bear ears, little more than the tips of his toes showing.

Ronon and Teyla were finally impressed by something. Maybe the Pacific Ocean reminded them of Atlantis’ own sea, because they both quieted down on the walk across the sand and stopped looking so grumpy. But the Pacific wasn’t really anything like the sea they were used to, and Teyla’s eyes got kinda of big the closer they got and she held her son a little tighter as the waves crashed against the beach.

“Oh, come on,” Rodney said, when he noticed her reaction. “You live on an ocean!” Then he remembered Duane was there. “Um, I mean island. She lives on an island.”

“Which one?” asked Duane.

“Um, Madagascar.”

Teyla blinked. “Yes,” she said. “Magadasker.”

Sadly, surfing didn’t really go over well. Rodney kept his promise not to participate, sitting on a towel on the sand, pretty far back from the shoreline, as well. He wasn’t even close enough to listen in on the conversation Teyla and Ronon were having with Duane, and they could have been telling him all about the fact that they were from another galaxy for all he knew. Teyla ran back periodically to check on and feed her son, and once Sheppard saw what kind of looked like she was yelling and kicking sand, so she might not have thought it was fair.

Teyla, bless her heart, tried. In truth, it might have been a little too soon post-partum, because she looked very uncomfortable doing just about everything, and that was unlike her. Sheppard didn’t want to know the girly reasons and felt a little bad about the timing.

Ronon was probably not trying. Since Sheppard had never seen him not totally excel at any physical activity, it only figured that he didn’t feel like giving a shit. He didn’t suck, of course, and he even stayed standing on his first time through. It was just that he clearly wasn’t enjoying it and was going through the motions rather than actually trying to have fun. He was also being a total dick to Duane, for no real reason. Duane wasn’t even hitting on Teyla.

Duane’s six hours ran out and he didn’t stick around a minute longer. Sheppard didn’t blame him; Ronon knew how to be scary.

“This was enjoyable,” Teyla said, afterwards when she was sitting back on the sand holding her son.

“No, it wasn’t.” At least Ronon was honest. “I didn’t like that guy.”

“He was a friend of John,” Teyla said. “He was very helpful.”

Ronon just grunted.

“Way to bail,” Sheppard said to Rodney, who was still covered in a visible coating of white sunscreen.

“That’s one off,” Rodney said, producing the list from his pocket and miming penciling an item out.

“What’s next?” asked Ronon, probably mostly so he could preemptively decide he hated it.

“Pain and suffering,” answered Rodney.

 

 

~

The next segment of the journey would have been much cooler in the Corvette. But Rodney had nixed that, so they went in the dork mobile, instead. In truth, it might not have made a huge difference, other than speed. Except speed was important and awesome, and also would have probably cut a few hours off the trip. Fifteen hours was going to hurt, regardless, and the way his team was already acting meant it would probably feel longer. Sheppard could have made it in ten, but Rodney wasn’t about to let anyone else drive with his name on the insurance.

Rodney had some tricked out GPS device stuck to the windshield, even though the vehicle came equipped with one. Rodney had programmed his himself, of course, so it was better. All the same, Teyla found a US Atlas shoved in the back pocket of the driver’s seat and tried to locate their route.

“Where are we going?” she asked, flipping through the pages.

“Colorado,” said Rodney.

“SGC?” asked Ronon. He was probably concocting a plan to run through the ‘Gate back to Pegasus.

“No,” Rodney said. “Golden, it’s more west.”

“Why?” asked Teyla, tracing a finger across the atlas as she turned the pages.

Rodney made a face. “Golf.”

Teyla was trying to measure the distance in the atlas, although she probably didn’t understand anything beyond a few state names, if that. “It is far,” she said, finally.

“I thought you had golf everywhere,” Ronon grouched. He was looking at his stuck knees again.

“This course is in the top 25 in the US,” Sheppard told him. “I wanted St. Andrews, but this’ll do and we gotta get across the country.

“We do,” Rodney said. “Wasn’t my idea, Ronon.”

The drive wasn’t too bad, honestly. Teyla’s baby didn’t mind car travel as much as he’d hated space travel, and mostly slept. They did have to stop periodically so Teyla could feed or change him, since she couldn’t do either of these things with the car moving. They also had to stop because Ronon threw McKay’s iPod out the window.

“That music sucks,” Ronon said, by way of explanation.

By some miracle, the music player landed unharmed on the side of the highway in a sad little patch of wild flowers, its case ripped but the device itself unharmed. Not that Rodney could have successfully murdered Ronon, anyway, but he sure looked like he wanted to try.

“I didn’t pick the music,” Rodney howled. “This is Sheppard’s fucking playlist!”

“It doesn’t suck,” Sheppard countered when they were moving again. “But if you don’t like it, just hit the little button on the right, buddy.”

Ronon didn’t have any affection for Johnny Cash or rock ballads of the 80’s, but he didn’t try to break the iPod again.

There was a slight change of plans four hours in, when they passed a casino billboard advertising Las Vegas.

“I know that word,” Teyla announced from the backseat. “It is where your people marry, yes?”

Sheppard snickered. “In some cases, yeah. Drunk people.”

“No,” Rodney snapped. “It’s a tourist town built totally for gambling, drinking, and prostitution.”

Ronon looked up from focusing his perpetual snarl on the dashboard. “Can we stop?”

That was how they ended up spending two nights in Vegas. For one, it was the first time in Sheppard’s memory that Ronon sounded remotely interested in anything having to do with earth. For another, McKay was nursing the beginnings of one hell of a case of roadrage, and it was a good idea to let him out of the car. Besides, number one on Sheppard’s list was ‘see the awesome parts of earth’.

Everyone liked Vegas. Sheppard wished he’d put it down, originally, even if it wasn’t his favorite place. The hotel even had a babysitting service that charged out the ass, but would watch Teyla’s baby so she could get it on the action. She wasn’t too pleased about leaving him with a total stranger, but she couldn’t hide her interest in going out, either.

Everyone also split up, which was less fantastic. With minimum whining, Rodney handed Teyla and Ronon enough cash to get into serious trouble and let them go. Sheppard sent up a short prayer that no one would get arrested, and followed Teyla. She had her eyes on the casino floor. He saw Rodney making a beeline for the bar, and Ronon was striding out of the hotel completely.

Teyla was awesome at gambling, it turned out. Sheppard wasn’t entirely sure she understood how much money she had, how much it was worth, or the purpose of the chips, but she sure as hell got the games. It was both impressive and totally unfair. One of the reasons Sheppard wasn’t a huge fan of Vegas was because he constantly got boned here. He was only kinda good at poker, but he was not at all good at quitting when he was losing.

Unfortunately, Teyla’s hot streak was interrupted because she had to go back every three hours to feed her son. She called it a night early, though, and somebody would have to remind her to cash her chips in, because she took them back with her to the hotel room.

Teyla was the only one that came back to their suite sober. Ronon showed up at 3am reeking of tequila and some fairly skanky perfume. He didn’t say a word and passed out, fully dressed, on top of the sheets. Teyla, woken up by his arrival, stood over him with her hands on her hips. She didn’t yell, either because it would wake the baby or because she didn’t think it would wake Ronon.

Rodney came back in a similar condition, except he went directly to the bathroom and spent the next two hours emptying his stomach. Teyla tried to hover over him, but eventually he kicked her out and she gave up, pulled the pillow over her own head, and went to sleep.

That was why they spent another night there, even though it didn’t really fit into the schedule. Ronon slept til noon, so still Sheppard was a little concerned for his health. Rodney woke up earlier than that, but he looked about three shades too yellow and didn’t want to do anything but drink water and lie unmoving in his room with the lights off.

Teyla didn’t say anything critical, but she did leave her son with the babysitting service again, and go off and double her winnings.

The following morning, Rodney felt well enough to drive. The ride was very silent. Ronon said he still had a headache and looked like he was going to rip McKay’s hand off, so the ipod didn’t get plugged in.

Teyla had collected about a thousand brochures and advertisements for the region, despite the fact that she really couldn’t read any of it. Sheppard thought it was to force the men to find something other than drinking. It wasn’t really fair, after all, since normally she’d have joined them and breastfeeding meant she couldn’t.

It also gave her something to look at while Ronon slumbered in the front seat and Rodney drove.

“I have seen this before,” she said, half an hour in, shoving one of the pages up front.

Ronon grunted the fact that he didn’t care.

Rodney took it from her and cast a quick glance at it before returning his eyes to the road.

“That’s the Grand Canyon, Teyla,” he said, handing it back.

“Major Lorne had a small picture of it in his quarters,” she said. “He said it was a postcard from his sister.”

Lorne’s sister had sent a bunch of postcards chronicling her family’s summer vacation a few years back. Sheppard only remembered because they came in a big box and everyone had hoped they were cookies.

“Is it near?” Teyla asked.

“Sort of,” Rodney said. “But we’re not stopping. We’re already behind as it is.”

Teyla sighed deeply.

That was how they ended up at the Grand Canyon. The traffic suddenly got absurd and Rodney got terrifically cranky at Teyla. But they found a relatively easy access road and a fairly empty rail to view the overlook.

“It’s beautiful,” Teyla said, smiling. “I have never seen anything like this.”

“Pretty great, huh.” Sheppard said.

“Yeah,” said Ronon, and even if he wouldn’t allow himself to sound impressed, he totally was.

“Doesn’t suck?” asked Sheppard, and he grinned.

They only stood there for a few minutes, but Sheppard thought everyone looked a little more zen when they got back in the car.

It was eleven hours from that stopping point to their destination in Colorado, and Sheppard was beginning to wonder how Rodney was handling being the sole driver for that long. Of course, that was when Ronon decided he wanted a turn driving.

“Hell no,” said Rodney. “What the hell? You never want to fly the Jumpers!”

“I don’t have the gene,” Ronon said. “I don’t want it.”

“Well, you need a gene to drive, too,” Rodney lied.

“Oh no you don’t,” Sheppard said.

“That’s not true,” Ronon said.

“Fine,” Rodney conceded. “But you do need a license and having a fear of death helps too.”

Ronon scowled, but dropped it.

They hit up another hotel once they got to Colorado. When Teyla packed it in, Rodney, Ronon, and Sheppard went back to the car. Rodney drove about an hour outside the city to a fairly desolate highway and pulled over onto the shoulder. He told Ronon which pedal was gas and which was brake, and then he got out of the car.

Sheppard wished again for the Corvette, because Ronon would have had so much more fun. He sat shotgun while Ronon sent it squealing up the highway. Rodney stayed as far off the road as he could get, probably praying no cops showed up.

It didn’t last for long. It wasn’t that interesting, especially in a car that was burning corn husks or something for its energy. And Ronon wasn’t much for vehicles anyway, he preferred his legs and his gun. But it was nice that he gave it a shot, and that Sheppard got to go along for the ride.

~

Golfing worked out better than surfing. Probably because McKay didn’t hate it – okay, he kind of did, but he couldn’t come up with a valid reason not to participate. He also ran out to Home Depot and built Teyla’s son a protective plexiglass barrier to go around his stroller, so Teyla couldn’t back out either. It kind of looked like a miniature tank on tiny orange wheels, which frankly was a little bit awesome.

Getting everyone suitably dressed for the afternoon wasn’t easy. Rodney yelled a lot. Ronon sincerely acted like he was submitting to torture. Teyla was more cooperative, of course, but in the end, they both looked more alien than ever. Sheppard had the whole course for three hours, though, so the number of witnesses was pretty small. And it lowered the likelihood of Ronon kicking someone to death with his spikes for laughing at his plaid shorts.

“I have played this before with John,” Teyla said, looking over the green. “On the pier. I do not think I understood.”

“This is a proper golf course,” Sheppard said. “We were kinda doing a driving range thing…into the ocean.”

“Looks dumb,” Ronon said. He was swinging the nine iron like it was an axe.

“Just because it ends without anyone bleeding doesn’t make it dumb,” Sheppard said.

Rodney looked at them, and despite his long-suffering face, said something Sheppard didn’t quite expect. “I might actually win.”

Teyla caught on quickly. She had the natural dexterity and hand-eye coordination, even if she didn’t really grasp why the game was supposed to be fun. She got more holes-in-ones than was fair, too. And she seemed to be enjoying it until she started hitting traps.

“I do not understand,” she huffed, fruitlessly trying to smack her ball out of the edge of a pond. “Why these obstacles are part of the game.”

“They’re kind of the point of the game.” Sheppard said.

“Cuz it’s dumb,” Ronon said, falling back on his standard explanation for everything having to do with Earth.

“Just pick it up, Teyla,” Rodney snapped. “You’re on like fifty-six.”

“Rodney, stop counting,” Sheppard said.

“Be silent,” Teyla snapped right back. “You are not helping, I will escape this trap.”

Rodney had never played with Sheppard on Atlantis. That first year he’d wanted to dismantle Sheppard’s clubs to build some kind of antenna for an Ancient microwave or something, and Sheppard had had to hide his golf bag for three weeks until they found another way to do it. Rodney wasn’t exactly good, not surprisingly lacking the patience required, but he seemed to be trying extra hard, and the fact that he was trying at all was something.

Ronon won. Of course. Or he would have if he hadn’t decided half way that the rules were stupid and he was just gonna smack the ball as hard as he could and see what things he could hit in the distance. Rodney screamed at him to stop aiming for wildlife, but that was probably mostly because he was pissed that he was being beaten by two aliens.

“That was interesting,” Teyla said, afterwards. “Very challenging.”

Rodney snorted, and looked at Ronon, waiting for his usual statement.

Instead, Ronon shrugged. He looked back at McKay. “It’s okay. The clothes are dumb.”

“It’s awesome,” Sheppard said. “And you all look styling.”

~

Afterwards came the longest leg of the trip. It was really unavoidable, since they’d be driving through fly-over country. Since Ronon had already vetoed Sheppard’s chosen soundtrack, and Rodney insisted on mostly obeying the speed limit, they were in for a long and boring ride. They passed a sign for Colorado Springs as they headed east and Rodney wished out loud, again, for a Jumper.

Teyla wanted to know if they were going to visit the SGC.

“What?” Rodney asked. “No. There’s no reason to.” He paused. “We’ll see anyone who wants to when we meet up with Sam.”

“I was surprised no one else returned with us,” Teyla said. “I thought Evan might accompany us.”

“Ah, no,” Sheppard said.

“Most of the military personnel are afraid if they go home when they’re wounded, they won’t be allowed to return to Atlantis,” Rodney said, which was both true and a totally valid fear. “That’s why Lorne stayed.”

Ronon was kind of looking down at his own scrapes and stitches, and frowning.

“Not you,” Sheppard said, and laughed.

“They’re not gonna keep you,” Rodney snapped. “Not even if I asked.”

“Are we going to visit you sister?” Teyla asked, as if suddenly reminded.

“No,” Rodney said. “She lives in another country. And the last thing this trip needs is my sister.”

“I like your sister,” Ronon said, earning an immediate glare even though he’d said it totally innocently.

~

Somebody had been teaching Teyla to read. Or maybe she’d begun to pick it up herself, because she had a really inconsistent, odd grasp on literacy.

The fortieth or fiftieth time they passed a brown highway sign for local attractions, Teyla leaned forward and put a hand on Rodney’s shoulder.

“I would like to visit an Earth Muh-soom,” she declared.

“Museum,” Sheppard corrected, lazily.

Rodney found Teyla’s eyes in the review mirror. “Since when are you Hooked on Phonics?”

Teyla stared back at him, confused, but Sheppard cracked up.

“And no,” Rodney said. “Not on the list, and no because we’re in Kansas. They might have the museum of the potato, and that’s it.”

But Rodney’s ability to say no to Teyla was laughable, and having to stop all the time for baby-related reasons meant a few more side trips weren’t going to make them any more late than they already were. Rodney wasn’t entirely wrong about the subject matter. They hit a bunch of little towns, each with one tiny museum documenting the mostly agricultural history of the place. The content in itself was boring as hell to Sheppard, but watching Teyla and Ronon take it in was interesting. The docents were, of course, kind of intimidated by Ronon. But having Teyla’s baby along had a disarming, diffusing effect and they generally paid more attention to the adorable tiny one than the enormous snarly one.

The content got kind of repetitive even for Teyla and she finally stopped requesting that they check out any more. Ronon, bored more easily, had refused to get out of the car for the last few stops.

“So what do you think of middle-America?” Rodney asked. He answered for Ronon. “Let me guess, it’s dumb.”

“I found it interesting,” Teyla said. “Very...” she paused. “Peaceful.”

“Yeah,” Ronon said. “How come there isn’t any war?”

“You know,” Sheppard said. “The Wraith have never been here.”

“No Wraith,” Rodney agreed. “No Goa’uld for a few millennia. And all the human wars have been somewhere else for the past 100 years.”

“No war,” Ronon mused. Sheppard wasn’t sure if he sounded like that made for a curious or boring reality.

“Peaceful,” Teyla said again. She smiled at her son, her opinion perfectly clear.

~

The next thing on the schedule was in Springfield, Illinois. Sheppard had never actually been to the Illinois State Fair before, but the timing was right and it was only half a day’s drive from their final stop. They could see the rides swinging through the air before they even pulled into the parking lot. Sheppard started grinning, then he saw the confused look on Ronon and Teyla’s faces, and he grinned harder.

“I already want to kill myself,” Rodney announced from the front seat.

“Is this Disneyland?” asked Teyla, drawing from her limited lexicon of amusement parks.

“No.” Rodney said. “Dear God, that might be worse.”

Sheppard didn’t know why Rodney was acting so put upon. There wasn’t anything inherently objectionable about fairs, and there were always plusses you could count on. Fried food and funnel cake, scantily clad ladies who walked around in their bikini tops to get some sun, and sometimes you could drink.

Again, it was almost more entertaining to watch Teyla and Ronon’s reaction to the whole thing. Rodney had to explain why the farm animal exhibits were actually kind of unusual and unfamiliar to some people. Teyla understood the range of urban and rural settlements, both from Pegasus and from driving across the US. But she still got kind of squinty contemplating people who had no involvement with agriculture whatsoever except as a form of recreation. Sheppard wondered if she might not be thinking that these people were kind of spoiled brats.

Oddly enough, Ronon liked the petting zoo. It was a little embarrassing being in there with all the little kids and Ronon, such that Rodney made a big show of alerting everyone that they did have a child with them, even if it was a tiny baby with no interest in any of it, and whose mother didn’t want him to touch any of the animals. It got a little more embarrassing when Rodney loudly informed Ronon that he couldn’t take a particularly friendly goat home.

Because he was a smart man, Ronon also liked funnel cake. Sheppard saw him eat at least three, and judging by the powdered sugar stuck in his beard, it might have been more. Teyla ate one, even if she made a face the entire time and kept saying “It is very sweet.”

They didn’t go on many rides.

“These are all deathtraps,” Rodney said, over and over again. “Built by meth addicted carnies.”

“Shut up, Rodney.” Sheppard said, each time.

But Ronon was probably dangerously tall for most of them, Teyla had no interest, the baby was too small, and Rodney was speaking loud enough for the operators to hear, so frankly it was probably safer to keep walking.

“This is a Ferris wheel?” Teyla asked, when they finally reached it. She looked confused.

“Yep,” said Sheppard.

Ronon frowned, looking equally uncertain.

“What?” Sheppard asked. “You’re not afraid, are you?”

“I thought it’d be bigger,” Teyla said.

“I thought it’d be smaller,” Ronon said.

Rodney shrugged. “It’s a wheel. What did you expect? It’s a wheel of Ferris, whatever the hell that is.”

“Guy who invented it,” Sheppard said. “Let’s go.”

Rodney did shut up about any structural instability, which was nice. The operator wasn’t supposed to let any infants on board, but Teyla smiled sweetly, Ronon loomed, and Rodney gave the guy twenty bucks.  

“I thought it would go faster,” Teyla said, as the wheel climbed.

“Me, too.” Ronon said. He was peering over the side of the car, not looking particularly thrilled about the increasing height.

“Oh come on guys,” Sheppard said. “I can do slow too, you know. I’m deep.”

Rodney didn’t say anything, but he did kind of roll his eyes.

“It is a nice view,” Teyla tried again.

“Miles and miles of tramp stamps and trucker hats,” Rodney snapped.

Sheppard glared at him.

Ronon must have shared the sentiment, because he reached into the pocket of his jeans, produced a pair of sunglasses, and shoved them on to his face.

“Where did you get those?” Rodney asked.

“Las,” Ronon said.

Sheppard looked at him. The frames were deep red and covered in rhinestones, with reflective silver lenses. “Vegas?” he said. “Yeah, I can tell.”

“Those are women’s sunglasses,” Rodney crowed. “Those are for women, Ronon.”

Ronon shrugged. “I like ‘em.”

Teyla rested one arm on the side of the car. “They are quite festive.”

Rodney must have decided it wasn’t smart to make fun of Ronon while a few hundred feet in the air without a parachute, because he didn’t say anything else on that subject. Ronon kept his sunglasses on and Teyla held her son while peering over the edge of the car.

“Don’t drop TJ over the edge,” Rodney said, because apparently there was some kind of rule against peaceful silence.

Teyla looked offended. She moved her arm back into her lap. “I will not,” she said, annoyed. ‘His name is not Teejay, Rodney. I have asked you to call him by his full name.”

“I like TJ."

“You’re jealous,” Sheppard sang. “That it’s not TR.”

That was how it happened that everyone got snitty before the ride ended. The wheel made its final rotation in silence and then their car came to a rest at the bottom.  

“Well,” Sheppard said as they disembarked. “I tried.”

~

They had another night in a hotel in the middle of Indiana. The long days on the road were wearing on them all. Rodney wasn’t even trying not to be cranky – he kept yelling at Ronon and Teyla for no real reason, to the point where Sheppard kind of thought Ronon might try to suffocate him in his sleep and even saintly Teyla was losing patience. The kid might have had nomadic ancestry, but he wasn’t a big fan of the journey, either. Or maybe he just hated Indiana. Teyla and Ronon stayed up pretty much all night with him, both looking gray-skinned and exhausted in the morning when Rodney insisted they get on the road shortly after dawn. Sheppard knew for a fact Rodney hadn’t done much sleeping, either, and wasn’t sure that plan was particularly good or safe.

“I want to be there by dinner time,” Rodney said.

No one argued. Ronon looked basically asleep on his feet and Teyla wasn’t much better off. Sheppard’s idea was that Rodney ride the gas pedal a little more to make up for lost time, which seemed simple and logical to him.

As usual, Rodney didn’t listen. Ronon shoved his ladies sunglasses on his face and snored through the rest of Indiana, Ohio, and two corners of Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Teyla slept fitfully in the backseat, and by some miracle the baby was quiet and sleepy, too.  If the kid woke between rest stops, Sheppard leaned over and whispered that he should let his mom sleep some more. It seemed to work. In another incident that should infuriate Rodney, the kid clearly liked Sheppard more.

 Rodney was dosing himself with espresso from Starbucks, and when they stopped at a gas station for snacks, he bought half a dozen cans of some brightly colored energy drink. Ronon tried a sip and immediately spat it out on to the floor of the car.

“That’s disgusting,” he said.

“If Ronon doesn’t like it…” Sheppard said, but Rodney was too busy being angry that the bright green fluid was going to stain the fabric.

Despite everything, they reached the DC area around the time Rodney intended. Unfortunately, that meant it was rush hour and traffic was insane. Rodney hunched over the steering wheel and yelled at the other drivers the whole time, but even his cursing didn’t wake Teyla and Ronon.

The car finally rolled to a stop at their destination as the sun began to slip behind the clouds and the sky turned orange. Rodney didn’t move for a few minutes, until finally Teyla stirred in the backseat. She sat up straighter and peered out the window.

“Is that another museum?” she asked, sounding sleepy.

That woke up Ronon, who tensed unhappily and opened one eye to look out the window.

“No,” he said.

“It’s my house,” Sheppard said. “Well, Dave’s house.”

No one moved from the car. Practically, Teyla began undoing the releases on the car seat. But she did it very slowly.

“C’mon, guys,” Sheppard said.

The main door opened and Colonel Carter came striding down the front walk, moving towards the car. She was in jeans and a pink blouse, and it was kind of strange to see her dressed like a civilian.

“Let’s go,” Rodney said, sighing. He opened his door and slowly Ronon and Teyla followed suit.

Carter put her arm around Teyla, cooing at the baby.

“How was the drive?” she asked.

“Awful,” said Rodney. “How was your interview?”

“I’ll tell you later,” Carter promised. “Let’s go in.” She paused. “Nice sunglasses, Ronon.”

Ronon shrugged and made no move to take them off. Peering towards the house, Sheppard could see the door open, his brother standing curiously just inside. Beside him was Nancy, and past them he could see rows of military uniforms, meaning no one but Carter had gotten the memo. He could see Jeannie, too, now moving to stand next to Nancy.

Carter and his team began to walk towards the house, but Sheppard’s legs were glued to ground.

“Are you ready?” asked a light voice by his ear.

Sheppard knew without looking it was a woman, because it was always a woman. She was right next to him, and she was glowing.

A cold pit formed in Sheppard’s stomach. His eyes followed his team. Ronon’s hands stuffed in his pockets; Teyla clutching her baby so tightly it was going to cry; Rodney with his chin jutted out as far as it would go.

“Not really,” he said, swallowing. He still didn’t look at her.

“You can go no further,” she said, and he could see her shimmering in his peripheral vision.

“Yeah, I know,” he said. “Doesn’t mean I’m ready.”

“You are,” she said. He could feel her touching him, light feathery strokes all down his arm. “Or I would not be here.”

“Just let me,” he said, eyes still on his team. They were almost to the door. “Okay?”

Teyla was the last one to enter. She turned around to close the door, and he got a glimpse of her son’s sweet face before she pulled it shut.

“Okay,” he said, finally. He put one hand out blindly, knowing that wasn’t how it worked but doing it anyway. And it felt like nothing could take away the grief that flowed through him, but then glorious white light filled his eyes, surged through his body. It was beautiful and cleansing, and he went with it.

 


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