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Red Wine Sorrow; Clear Blue Skies Tomorrow

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Eleanor O'Neill is nineteen when she gets pregnant, gets kicked out, and never comes home. She's nineteen, and the baby's father is twenty eight and she met him at a party and snuck out of his hotel room in the early hours of the morning.

 

His name is plastered in the business pages, and half the country knows his name and she doubts he'll even remember her through all the wine and scotch.

 

But she's nineteen and pregnant, and she doesn't know what else to do.

 

She uses the last of her money, carefully saved over the years, and gets all the way to the town he lives in before she spends the last of her money on crackers she throws up on the long trek to his home. 

 

"I'm sorry, I know I shouldn't have come here," she says to the young man in the guard station next to the gate, "but I didn't know what else to do."

 

And he hesitates, but lets her in anyway, and then she's standing in front of Patrick Sheppard's house in clothes that no longer fit and the lingering scent of bile on her skin.

 

The maid answers and she's about the same age as her mother and she doesn't even manage to get a word out before she's burst into tears because her mother was gone and her father said "don't come back", and she didn't even get a chance to say goodbye to Jon.

 

She bundles her up in a warm blanket from the back of the couch in the sitting room, gives her a cup of peppermint tea and brushes the travel-snarls out of her hair.

 

And she listens.

 

Her name is Magdalene and she'd been a part of the Sheppard household since Patrick was in diapers, knew the boy like he was her own.

 

Somehow knowing that makes it easier to explain, to tell this stranger about the baby.

 

"It's gonna be alright, Ellie, girl," she says, patting her knee gently, "You'll see."

 

And the thing about it is, for the first time, Eleanor thinks it might actually be.

 

-x-

 

Magdalene calls her Ellie, and when Patrick gets in that night with a look of blatant surprise on his face, she remembers that he called her Ellie too. That night, in his hotel room.

 

-x-

 

She knows that she's probably not the first one to claim she's carrying his child. He's rich, and his company is thriving and expanding.

 

But he remembers her, and maybe it's the fact that all she has is a knapsack full of clothes to her name, but he believes her too.

 

-x-

 

They marry in quiet three days later, and he says to her, "Have to look out for my boy and his mom, yeah?"

 

It's not a whirlwind romance, with flowers and courting.

 

But he gives her a place in his life, gives their child a chance.

 

She'll always be grateful for that.

 

-x-

 

John is born in January, and he's a quiet little thing. She loves him far more than she ever expected to, but so does Patrick.

 

The longer they're together, the more she falls in love with Patrick. It isn't sudden or expected, but one night she puts John to bed and realizes she's happy here.

 

With him.

 

She tells him that when John's almost a year old, and there's that affectionate look in his eyes that makes her heart flutter.

 

-x-

 

David is an accident but one they're happy about. He's bigger as a baby than his older brother and not nearly as quiet, but she loves him all the same.

 

It isn't the life she expected to live when she was back in the Midwest, but it's one she's come to love with all she is.

 

-x-

 

When John is five, she writes her brother a letter and mails it on. He'd be about twenty, she thinks, and wonders if he hates her.

 

-x-

 

The letter comes back a few weeks later, "not deliverable as addressed."

 

-x-

 

Just after John turns eight, she gets pregnant again.

 

It doesn't go well.

 

Things aren't really the same after that.

 

-x-

 

"Your mother isn't feeling well today, Johnny," she hears Madgelene say through the door, "we should let her rest."

 

-x-

 

"Mom is resting, Dave," she hears John say through the door, "why don't we go see the horses."

 

-x-

 

"Let's go for a little trip, okay boys?" She says one night, waking them up.

 

And Johnny says no, but comes anyway once she gets Dave in the car.

 

It's late and dark on the empty highway, nothing but road as far as she can see.

 

It's cold but she drives with the top down,  singing loudly to Whitney Houston as she whips through the snow covered landscape.

 

-x-

 

Dave wakes up when the car slides down the embankment, the wicked squeal of rubber and metal and concrete jarring him out of a heavy sleep just before the car smacks into the copse of trees below.

 

John's arm is broken in three places and he's slurring his words, but Dave knows this.

 

John was the one who made sure he put his shoes on and grabbed a coat, who made sure he was wearing his seat belt.

 

John was the only reason he was still alive.

 

-x-

 

But that doesn't stop their father from saying once when he was angry and drunk, when they were fighting over John's decision to stay in the Air Force, back when John came home with his new wife, "you should have stopped your mother," as if an eleven year old could have stopped his mother from drinking drunk on an icy road in the height of winter in the middle of the night.

 

As if John hadn't spent the past decade hating himself for not being able to save her and hating the fact that in the wee morning hours, for his twelfth birthday, all he got was a dead mother and a broken arm.

 

-x-

 

They argue about it. They argue about it a lot. Not John and their father, no.

 

Dave's always been on John's side, even when John was too angry to see it.

 

-x-

 

Except John never comes home again, never even calls on Dave's birthday.

 

Nancy comes, kisses his cheek and apologizes.

 

But Dave can see the writing on the wall.

 

-x-

 

He sleeps with Nancy exactly once before he realizes what he's doing.

 

-x-

 

It takes all of Dave's favors to keep John in the Air Force after the black mark.

 

If John knows, Dave can't tell.

 

-x-

 

Except... his letter for John's birthday actually gets a response that year though.

 

One word, painstakingly scribed in black ink.

 

Thank you.

 

-x-

 

He doesn't remember much about their mother. He remembers the way her face lit up when she was pregnant with Alice, the way she hid in her room for days on end, the way her face was gaunt and pale during the funeral, they way she smelled like cigarettes and cheap wine the night she died.

 

And he remembers holding John's hand at the funeral while their father put the first dark, damp handful of dirt on the coffin, the way it sounded like nothing else in the world.

 

-x-

 

He doesn't remember his mother well.

 

But he remembers this.

 

When their father had to leave, and they stayed home with only the stableman, because Magdalene had passed on not long before their mother. But as much as the man tried, it was mostly John who raised him.

 

And then John left him.

 

The only difference was, John chose to leave.

 

-x-

 

As much as he loved his brother, sometimes he hated him too.

 

-x-

 

John was always supposed to be the one who followed their father’s footsteps in the business. It had been the focus of fights between him and their father since John was a teenager, because all John ever wanted to do was fly.

 

Dave remembers one time, back when they were young and their mother was still alive, and actually came out of her room... He remembers her saying to them, “Your uncle Jonny wanted to fly, too.”

 

It’s one of the only things he remembers her saying, and the only thing about their supposed uncle he’d ever heard.

-x-

 

Maybe it was because John felt like he could be close to their mom, flying like that.

 

He remembered so much more about her than Dave ever could.

 

-x-

 

Dave never wanted to follow their father’s footsteps either.

 

But, he wasn’t brave enough to say no.

 

Not like John.

 

-x-

 

He doesn’t really expect John to come to the funeral. He hadn’t even attempted to talk to their father in years. But there John is, and he looks so young in a way that Dave doesn’t really know how to put words to.

 

Except in the eyes.

 

He’s dealt with military personnel a lot over the years. And that look, he knows that look.

 

-x-

 

“Dave,” John says the night before he’s due to leave. Back to base, wherever that is.

 

“John...?”

 

“I never wanted his money.”

 

“I know,” Dave says, because despite what he’d said, he had known that. John never asked for anything, never asked for a damn thing.

 

Except for their father to let him fly.

 

-x-

 

“So, I’m back a little sooner than I expected,” John says over the phone a year later, his voice somewhat hesitant, “and I wanted to know if it would be alright if I... if we... came to visit.”

 

We... He hadn’t expected a we.

 

“Anytime, Johnny,” Dave says, and he finds as soon as it comes out of his mouth, that he means it.

 

-x-

 

John shows up on his doorstep three days later with a duffle over his shoulder and a man at his side.

 

Not like Dex, the supposed civilian contractor he’d brought to the funeral.

 

No, the tablet the man’s staring at just screams geek in the same way Dex’s face screamed trained killer.

 

“John...” Dave says lightly, and the corner of John’s lips twitch.

 

“Dave, this is Dr. Rodney McKay. Rodney, this is my younger brother.”

 

The geek finally looks up, studies him in a way that makes him oddly uncomfortable, and then turns back to John.

 

“What, are we just going to stand here?”

 

-x-

 

Dave doesn’t expect to like McKay. He’s abrasive and cutting, but somehow he fits John in a way that Nancy never had. Even just watching the way they look at each other seems more than it ever had with Nancy.

 

He knows that John isn’t the same stoic, stubborn kid he had been when he left home, but McKay seems to understand him in a way that Dave had never, even back then, been able to.

 

“John practically raised me, you know,” he says to McKay, who blinks and then looks at his brother in surprise. John looks equally surprised by the comment.

 

“No, I didn’t--”

 

“Our dad worked a lot, sometimes out of town. Even before our mother died, he was the one making sure I wore a jacket and did my homework.”

 

“No, that was--”

 

“Yeah, that was you.”

 

-x-

 

That’s not to say that suddenly they’re best friends and everything is hunky-dory.

 

No, they both have their father’s temper.

 

-x-

 

“Sheppard,” Dave says into the phone, rolling his eyes when John raises an eyebrow in the direction of the clock reading 9:43 pm.

 

“... Dave Sheppard?”

 

“Yes, who is this?”

 

“Mr. Sheppard, I’m calling about Eleanor Sheppard. Is it possible for us to meet?”

 

“My mother--no, seriously, who is this?” John is at his side immediately, tense and uneasy.

 

“Ja... Jonathan... my name is Jonathan O’Neill.”

 

Jonny.

 

“Like, mom’s brother?

 

-x-

 

The last thing Dave expects is for the person who the guard lets through to the main house to be someone John and McKay immediately recognize.

 

“General O’Neill,” John says at the same time McKay says, “O’Neill.”

 

-x-

 

Their mother had been four years older than Jack O’Neill, and he had never known what really happened to her.

 

When he finally found where she ended up, he had made plans to meet her family, but then... their cousin died, and he didn’t try again for a long time.

 

Because, whatever secret location that John and McKay had met at, Jack had been a part of for years.

 

-x-

 

“Welcome to the Stargate Program, Dave.”