It was a fluke, really. John was on his way to a linear algebra class, Nancy was on her way to a French class, and John was trying to be polite by opening the door for her and Nancy was trying to be polite by opening the door for him and it ended in a scattering of textbooks and notebooks and pens. In the flurry of apologies and making sure the other was okay, they discovered two things: they were both from South Boston, and they were the same age.
John invited Nancy out for coffee in apology for making her drop her books and be late for her French class. Nancy accepted and on that coffee date showed John that French class made for good French kissing, and just like that, they were dating. They celebrated St. Patrick’s Day the traditional way, with candles and prayers instead of copious amounts of alcohol, even though neither of them were particularly religious. John taught Nancy the Irish prayer he’d learned for the occasion, and Nancy taught John how to make corn beef cabbage. Nancy found music for old Irish lullabies at a pawn shop, and John, who worked at the math tutoring center on campus, saved up money to buy a mandolin, and he would play, and she would sing, and it was like they’d brought home with them.
Nancy wanted to work in Boston after she graduated from law school - she was planning on going to Harvard Law - and John never wanted to go back, but he would, because he loved Nancy. She was smart and funny and bright, and she was all the best of home without the worst of it.
John up and joined the ROTC halfway through his freshman year of college, and Nancy was patient with him when he slipped out of bed early to go running, when he came home late after training, when he was gone on the weekends for training exercises.
Nancy was an O’Hara, and the O’Haras had a long tradition of serving their country. She understood John’s desire to serve, thought it was honorable. And the way she kissed him the first time she saw him in his dress uniform, well, it might or might not have sealed the deal.
Nancy and John married in a small ceremony in the chapel on campus, with all of Nancy’s family present and none of John’s, because as far as Nancy knew John’s family was dead. It was a full Catholic wedding, and a full Irish wedding. Alcohol flowed, sungs were sung, dances were danced, and John learned what family was supposed to be like. He and Nancy had all summer together, surfing and lazing on the beach and going to concerts and being young and in love. In the fall, John started at OTS and Nancy started at Harvard.
They ran up a massive phone bill and John sent postcards, letters when he had the time. He missed her fiercely.
He was still terrified of the first time he went home to see her at the apartment she’d picked out for them. Nancy was in her first year of law school, and Dave was in his sophomore year of undergrad. But Nancy’s friends were mostly from out-of-state, were ambitious law students who were broke and drank at cheap dives around Harvard Square, who talked loftily of justice and equality and the future of America. While Dave was probably wining and dining his future business associates and bribe-able lawyers and detectives, John was tucked into a corner of Grendel’s Den and trying to explain what he was studying at OTS to get his masters (lawyers, it seemed, went to law school because they were bad at math and science, else they’d have gone to medical school).
But Nancy was a good person, and her friends were good people, and John let down his guard just a little bit.
Nancy graduated and was offered a job with the county prosecutor’s office, which she’d always wanted. John graduated from OTS and moved on to Test Pilot School so he could get his wings. He loved Nancy. They were happy. He was gone more often than he was home, but Nancy was busy, and Nancy was patient, and they started to email each other when the option was available, on government computers. John still called Nancy every day, and he wrote her letters. Sometimes, when he had a moment, he’d record her a song he’d played on his guitar, and she’d record him a song in return.
John was given libo the weekend before he was slated to graduate from Test Pilot School. Nancy had arranged to come to his ceremony (and his promotion to captain), but John wanted to surprise her, so he flew back to Boston. He wore his cammies, because he knew how much she liked him in uniform, how proud she was that he was serving his country, and he took a cab straight from the airport to the courthouse. He asked at the prosecutor’s office which courtroom she was in, and then he slipped into the back, heart pounding. He’d never seen her in action before.
Nancy was fiercely intelligent, was brilliant and sharp-witted, and she was passionate about the law, passionate about justice. She was passionate in bed, too, and -
John recognized the man in the orange jumpsuit, standing at the defense table. Uncle Declan. John scanned the courtroom, horrified, and saw Dave sitting a few rows back, on the defense side. He saw his father, and his Uncle Ryan, and a number of other men whose faces he didn’t know but who he knew were part of The Family.
John backpedaled instinctively, turned his duffel bag so his name wasn’t on display, but then the judge banged his gavel and Nancy darted away from her counsel table to speak to the defense attorney - one of Patrick Sheppard’s family attorneys, five hundred dollars an hour and a shark in blood-infested waters - and Nancy saw him.
She started toward him, joy on her face. She called his name over the din that rose between cases. “John!”
The defense attorney turned, and Uncle Declan turned.
“Excuse me a moment,” Nancy said, and she stepped through the swinging doors from the well of the court into the public gallery and trotted down the aisle toward John.
“What are you doing here?” She tugged him into a hug, pressed a kiss to his cheek.
“Surprise,” John said weakly.
And then Uncle Declan said, “Well, blow me down, if it ain’t Baby John!”
Nancy’s joyful smile dissolved. She twisted to look over her shoulder, and Uncle Declan was grinning and waving with his hands shackled together at the wrists, and Dave and Patrick and Uncle Ryan and everyone else was looking at him.
Uncle Ryan stepped away from the pews and strode down the aisle, yanked John into a hug.
“Baby John, always knew you’d come home. Look at you, all soldiered up! Done with your hitch? Come to take your rightful place in the family business?”
“John?” Nancy’s eyes were wide.
“No, Uncle Ryan,” John said. “I’m about to be commissioned a captain. I’m going career, doing twenty years.”
Patrick approached, flanked by Dave on his right and some nameless thug on his left.
“Well, boy,” Patrick said. “I wondered at this new upstart prosecutor with the Sheppard name. I never suspected she was part of the family.”
“John, what’s going on?” Nancy asked in a low voice.
“Nancy,” John said, “this is my father, Patrick Sheppard, and my brother, David. My Uncle Ryan O’Keefe, and you already know my Uncle Declan.”
“You said your family was dead,” Nancy hissed.
Fury sparked in Dave’s eyes, but Patrick just laughed. “We might as well have been, for all that my oldest son has kept in contact with us.” He looked Nancy up and down. “A lawyer, son? And a Harvard Law graduate, no less. She’d fit into the family better than you, at this rate.” Patrick leaned in, nudged John. “She’s a pretty one. And it always pays to have a prosecutor in the family, doesn’t it? Well done, son. Always knew you’d do me proud in the end.”
Nancy went pale.
People streamed around them, moving in and out of the courtroom.
Patrick wrapped an arm around Nancy’s shoulders and tugged her close. “A new daughter-in-law. Baby John’s set the bar high, Davey m’lad. Beautiful and smart. Look at them, so young and in love. You’d be hard-pressed to make an equally useful match.”
Patrick pressed a kiss to Nancy’s hair, and John itched for his sidearm.
“Get your hands off my wife.” John kept his tone low and calm.
“Or what?” Patrick asked.
Nancy looked terrified.
“Welcome to the family, lass,” Patrick said, and he let her go, stepped back. “So good to see you, Baby John.” He nodded to the rest of his men and veritably swaggered out of the courtroom.
Dave bumped into John roughly with his shoulder, fury snapping in his blue gaze.
John watched them go, moving to stand between them and Nancy.
As soon as they were gone, Nancy grabbed John’s arm, so tightly it would likely leave bruises, and dragged him out of the courtroom, into one of the side conference rooms. She closed the door behind them and actually locked it.
“You’re Baby John Sheppard.”
“It says John Patrick Sheppard on my birth certificate.”
“You’re one of the Sheppard family.”
“By birth, not by choice. If you couldn’t tell, I’ve left them behind.”
“Have you? Because your father made it sound like you married me -”
“Because I love you.”
“You lied to me. You said your family was dead.”
Dread curled in the pit of John’s stomach. “My mother died when I was six. The rest of my family is dead to me.”
“Could’ve fooled me.” Nancy crossed her arms over her chest, posture defensive. She’d kept the little conference table between them. “They looked mighty happy to see you.”
“They didn’t even know I’d joined the Air Force. I haven’t spoken to them in years.”
“You know what your family is like,” Nancy said.
“Which is why I walked away from them.”
“I cannot do my job and be part of that family.”
The ball of dread in John’s gut turned icy. “I’m not part of that family, and neither are you.”
But Nancy’s expression was closed off. “You lied to me, John.”
“Not about anything that matters. Not about me loving you, or playing music, or -”
“Or you being raised a criminal!”
Just like that, John could see how this would unfold. Either he left Nancy, made it abundantly clear she had no connection to Patrick Sheppard, or he stayed with her, and she was in danger for the rest of her career, or the family came calling, demanding favors.
“I’m not a criminal and never have been,” John snapped. He reached out and unlocked the door, pulled it open. He knew what he had to do. He loved her, and he wanted her to be safe. Needed her to be safe. They were both young. She could find happiness again. “If you’re done accusing me -”
“We are far from done,” Nancy hissed, tried to close the door.
John looked her up and down with the coldness he’d learned from his father and hated himself. “I think we are done, if you’re going to choose your career over me.”
The slap caught him off-guard, but the sting was barely a pinprick compared to the way his heart was breaking.
“John Sheppard, how dare you - after all I’ve sacrificed while you’ve been away at OTS and Test Pilot School and -”
“Goodbye, Nancy. I expect you can draw up the papers yourself.” John reached down and plucked off his wedding ring, placed it on the table. Then he shouldered his duffel bag and spun on his heel, walked away.
With the door open, everyone had seen, everyone knew - Nancy Sheppard and John Sheppard were no more.
John caught a cab on the street, went back to the airport. Bought a ticket back to California, and left his life behind for good.
He was John Sheppard, pilot and soldier and nothing more, till the day he died.
Till the day he attempted to mount a rescue for Lyle Holland.
Till the day an Ancient drone almost shot down his chopper in Antarctica.
Till the day he met his new 2IC on Atlantis.