Aneen didn't like Colonel Sheppard much.
It was easy to dislike him, really. He hardly ever smiled, never socialised with the people under his command, and spent what little free time he had only with Specialist Dex and Miss Emmagan. He was strict, if not entirely unkind, and in the two years she'd been on Atlantis she'd never once heard him make a joke, let alone seen him laugh.
People said he used to be different, friendly and a little geeky and slouching rather than standing up straight. The slouching she could see. He still did that sometimes. But she had a hard time imagining Lt. Col. John Sheppard, the man who'd put four marines on permanent sewer maintenance duty for a harmless prank war, strolling through the Gate room with a lollipop in his mouth. Then again, people also said that by the time the Iliad came limping into New Lantea's atmosphere, the only one of seven ships to make it here from Earth, Sheppard had closed down.
Maybe he was grieving for that poor field of space rubble that had once been a planet, his home world. Even if he was, she still didn't like him much.
She liked him even less when he cancelled everyone's Sunday after a Marine and a chemist had gotten into a fight over one of the biologists, their mutual love interest, and the brawl had spread through a good part of the labs. Discipline, the Colonel had said, was important, especially since they were the last Earth humans left. Friendship, he'd said, was even more important, since no one could know when the next fucked-up thing would happen to them and someone would die. It had been sheer coincidence that Aneen was looking at Specialist Dex after Sheppard dismissed them, and saw him pat Sheppard's shoulder. Sheppard was looking at the ground, his lips a thin line. She wondered what that was about, but at the same time, she didn't really care very much.
At Radek and Evan's not-quite-a-marriage party, Sheppard got really, really drunk. He didn't start a fight or anything, just drank one Geniian ale after another. Miss Emmagan and Specialist Dex sat left and right from him, to keep him from drinking too much, Aneen had thought. But when President Woolsey gave his speech about bonds developing under pressure and the value of a friendship turning into a deeper connection, Specialist Dex pulled a face and Miss Emmagan stood up to get the three of them more ale, handing two of the earthen bottles to Sheppard. The Colonel smirked without humour and downed the first one in a matter of seconds before opening the next.
When Sheppard eventually congratulated Evan and Radek, earnest and swaying a little on his feet, Radek looked like he wanted to cry. Probably because Sheppard had drunk enough to make Radek owe the Genii repairs for a week, Aneen thought unkindly, then chastised herself. She didn't have to like Sheppard to recognise he was under a lot of stress, what with being the military commander and one of President Woolsey's advisors. He deserved an outlet as much as anyone.
"What, you mean you haven't heard?" Marcel asked her later, after he had signed off-duty and they were spending some quality time together, when she told him all about the party he'd missed. "I thought everyone knew."
"Knew what?" she asked, propping herself up on one elbow, her long dark hair brushing his chest.
And so he told her about Dr. Rodney McKay. He told her that McKay had been head scientist before Radek, and that he'd been one of Sheppard's closest friends.
"You should have seen them. Like little boys," he said, grinning. "They were racing these little cars down the corridors, it was hilarious. I thought Woolsey would blow a gasket."
He told her about how Sheppard and McKay had gotten into a fight about something that had happened off-world – "A woman, I think," Marcel said, "but I don't know." – and how that fight had started out as a harmless squabble and then suddenly turned serious, eight years of insignificant hurts and insults escalating until McKay left Sheppard's off-world team and Sheppard suggested that McKay take some time off to get over his snit. McKay had put in for leave, and Sheppard had dialled the Gate to Earth himself, and the two of them hadn't exchanged another word as McKay hefted his duffle bag and walked into the wormhole.
A week later, Earth had been gone.
"The Colonel was… It hit him hard." Marcel played with her hair, running his fingers through the strands. "I know losing Earth was terrible for you, but we all lost something."
Aneen nodded wordlessly, and did her best to kiss the sadness off his face.
She still didn't like Colonel Sheppard, much. But now she thought she understood him a little. If that Dr. McKay had been as close to him as Specialist Dex and Miss Emmagan were… she couldn't imagine what would happen if Sheppard ever lost either of them.
And then, two years and three months after Earth had been lost, another ship tumbled into the solar system. The Argo looked even worse than the Iliad had, its hull broken and scorched and covered with scraps of metal in a multitude of shapes and colours; the whole ship one piece of ill-fitting patchwork.
It was the most beautiful sight anyone on Atlantis had seen for a long time, maybe ever.
They had to ferry the people down with the Iliad. The Argo's shield generators and transporter systems had been cannibalised in favour of the hyper drive, and she never would have survived entering New Lantea's atmosphere. It was nothing short of a miracle that she had made the trip at all, jumping through hyperspace in hops and bounds, an engineering nightmare.
Aneen stood on the East Pier like most of the city when the Iliad set down and opened its doors, the first of the fugitives blinking into the New Lantean sun as they breathed in the fresh, salty air. More and more people streamed onto the pier – almost four hundred, the Argo's captain had said – and suddenly, the chatting and laughing and crying was broken by a loud whoop that was unlike anything Aneen expected of the tranquil, quiet Miss Emmagan. Heads turned, the crowd parted, and Aneen barely had time to notice a pale-faced man with dark circles under his eyes, broad shoulders drooping with exhaustion, before he had his arms full with Teyla Emmagan, who was clinging to him, laughing. The man was holding her just as tight, and then Specialist Dex was with them, his booming, "McKay!" echoing across the pier before he pulled both of them into a hug that had to be making their ribs creak. The people around them were beaming, giving them room, but Aneen turned her head to look for Colonel Sheppard.
He was still standing near the head of the pier, fists clenched and body motionless, his gaze riveted on Dr. McKay. His expression was… complicated, disbelief and hope and something darker that had the muscles in his jaw working. On the other side of the pier, Dr. McKay looked up and beamed at him, and when Aneen swivelled her head back around to see Sheppard's reaction he had closed his eyes, swallowing hard. Then his eyes opened again, bright and wet and blinking rapidly, and he took a halting step forward, and another one, faster and faster until he was jogging across the pier, elbowing his way through the chaos, not once looking away from Dr. McKay's face. Miss Emmagan was holding out a hand, the other still clutching Dr. McKay, and Specialist Dex unceremoniously pulled Sheppard in and mashed them all together, laughing at Miss Emmagan's surprised squeak.
Aneen looked away, but not before she had seen Sheppard pull Dr. McKay in like he was never going to let go, burying his face in Dr. McKay's neck. Not before she had seen Dr. McKay press kiss upon kiss against Sheppard's temple, ignoring the wetness running down his cheeks. And not before she had seen the way Sheppard was shaking, so completely unlike the man she'd thought she knew.
Then someone was calling for Radek, and Dr. McKay demanded to know what they had done to his city while he was away, and President Woolsey shook Dr. McKay's hand with a huge smile on his face, and before anyone knew it the party that had been supposed to take place in and around the mess hall was happening right there on the pier.
And all the while, Sheppard stood beside Dr. McKay, smiling and blinking fast and holding on to one of Dr. McKay's wrists as Dr. McKay gestured wildly with his free hand, and when their eyes happened to meet over the crowd, Aneen smiled back.