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Title: A Gift So Rare
Author: stella_pegasi
Genre(s): Friendship, slice of life, angst
Rating: PG
Character/Pairing: John Sheppard (with team +)
Spoilers: Set just after Season 5: EATG…mention of events in episode, The Shrine
Warnings: none
Het/Slash/Gen: Gen
Word count: 3,313
Disclaimer: I do not own them, I would have treated them better.
Summary: Sometimes the most precious gift was the hardest one to see.

Written for sga_saturday Week 8 Prompt: Rare




A GIFT SO RARE

By stella_pegasi

John Sheppard was restless.

Moonlight spilled through the open windows, bathing his quarters in a silvery glow. The gentle breeze stirring the gauzy drapes filled the room with a salty tang. The only sound drifting to his ears was the lapping of the ocean waves against the hull.

He sighed, giving up on sleeping just yet and rose from his bunk. He padded across the room to the mini refrigerator, hesitating as he decided if he wanted a beer or water. He chose water, shocking himself a bit; he really wanted a beer but, for some reason, felt he needed to remain lucid. He peered through the dim light for his running shoes, finding them; he slipped them on, grabbed a shirt, and left his quarters.

At 0200 hours, the city was deserted. Purposely, Sheppard stayed away from the areas where there would be security, or the odd geek pulling an all-nighter working on an experiment. For the moment, there was a skeleton crew on Atlantis; many of the city's inhabitants were on leave, taking advantage of their situation.

Their situation; Sheppard was certain their situation was precipitating his uneasy feelings. They shouldn't be here. Granted, if Zelenka hadn't been able to pull off getting Atlantis to Earth in time, no one would have been there. The Wraith would have culled the planet. Now they were sitting on the surface of the Pacific Ocean, the coast of California now many miles in the distance.

He had steered Atlantis out of the bay, further away from San Francisco. Their initial proximity to the Golden Gate Bridge made the government extremely nervous. Cloaked, they were now located in a relatively quiet section of the ocean, out of shipping lanes and protected by a security ring of naval vessels and constant aerial surveillance by the Air Force. The cover story being spun was that naval training operations were being conducted in the area.

He wandered aimlessly through Atlantis' corridors. She was wandering with him. Sheppard sensed her presence, but she had not reached into his consciousness yet. She would, that he knew was a certainty. Atlantis always came to him when she felt his anxiety.

A transporter loomed in front of him, and he decided to go out onto the deck. Stepping into the chamber, he tapped the screen to take him close to his destination. When he exited the building and began walking toward the pier, he filled his lungs with cool, salty air. The building housing the transporter was surrounded by a large plaza with steps leading down to the pier. Sheppard decided to sit down on the top step instead of walking to the pier. Sitting with his legs dangling over the edge of the pier would garner too many memories of sitting with Rodney, when the scientist was suffering from the childhood disease. That night the city sparkled in the darkness, the Pegasus sky filled with two moons.

Atlantis now sat in near darkness, more for security than to conserve power. If the single moon in the sky wasn't at its zenith, he doubted he would be able to maneuver well on the outside hull. Hull…that's what it was, the hull of a spaceship, but it felt like more like home turf. As he sat on the steps, looking toward the darkened coast of California, he never felt more out of place. He may be from Earth, but Earth no longer felt like home.

Sheppard took a long swig of water, wishing he had chosen a beer instead. He didn't drink often, rarely allowed himself to drink enough to affect him, but in the last two weeks he had felt the need to escape. A beer would have been a better choice.

"Crap," he yelled out at the top of his lungs. "This is not what supposed to be happening."

Sheppard's unease began the moment the IOA suggested Atlantis remain on Earth for the foreseeable future. That little snake, Coolidge, the IOA's SGC representative, insinuated it was time that the SGC worried more about Earth than a group of under-developed planets in another galaxy. He wasn't certain who was angrier at Coolidge's remark; he knew he was livid. However, from the look on General O'Neill's face, as well as Landry's and Woolsey's, Coolidge needed to watch his weaselly little back.

As if the possibility of not returning to Pegasus was enough, Teyla had come to him with a request. She wanted to return to Pegasus; she wanted to take Torren and rejoin Kanaan and her people. Tears in her eyes, she had asked him to intervene with the IOA, so that the Daedalus could take them home.

Sheppard rubbed his eyes, and then entangled his fingers tightly in his hair; he didn't want her to go, but he couldn't deny her anything. The fact was Teyla was only a part of his team; Kanaan was a part of her life and her son's. He had gone to General O'Neill directly, feeling that the general would understand. The general did, and two weeks ago, he stood with McKay and Ronon watching, their emotions barely in check, as Teyla and Torren beamed aboard the Daedalus. She was gone and he had no idea when they would see her again.

Laying back on the hard deck surface, Sheppard thought back to the conversation he had with Ronon, before Teyla left. Ronon was in the gym when he caught up with him, sparring with a couple of SGC Marines, who were providing security while the Atlantis Marines rotated through leave. As he walked in the gym, two of the young Marines hit the pads at the same time, thanks to a classic Ronon move. He smiled as he remembered that day.

"Having some problems, boys"

The two young Marines struggled to their feet, somewhat groggy, but came to attention in Sheppard's presence. The colonel chuckled, "At ease, Marines; take a break…or run for your lives, whichever you want to do."

One of the Marines gave Sheppard a slightly pained grin, "Running would be my option, sir." With a nod from Sheppard, the Marines quickly exited the gym.

Ronon was standing in the center of the room, chest heaving from the exertion. Sheppard sauntered over to the window seat, and flopped down, sprawling his long legs across the cushions before he spoke. "You're breathing hard, Chewie; those boys were pretty tough, huh?"

The big Satedan frowned as he walked toward Sheppard; pulling the colonel's legs off the cushion, he sat down on the window seat. Sheppard braced himself against the floor to keep from falling off the bench.

"So, Sheppard, is this where you try to convince me to return with Teyla?"

Sheppard swallowed, his throat suddenly dry, "Do you think I want you to leave when Teyla does?"

Ronon's voice was low but gravely, "I think the IOA would love to be rid of us both."

"Ronon, no one who matters wants either of you to go. I don't want Teyla to go, but I understand why she wants to return to Pegasus. I just…I just need to know if you want to go home, as well." Sheppard hoped his voice didn't sound as shaky as his nerves were, he wasn't good at telling people what he felt.

Sheppard's gut clenched when Ronon turned to look at him. The younger man's eyes were filled with pain, "I want to go home, Sheppard, but I can't. There's no Sateda anymore; Atlantis is my home now. I want to fight the Wraith, but I won't leave Atlantis, unless you order me to leave."

Biting his lower lip, Sheppard tried to steady his nerves before he spoke, "Ronon, the fight with the Wraith is not over. In the meantime, this is where you belong and this is where you stay. No one is going to force you to leave." He stood up, needing to get away before he betrayed his emotions.

Ronon caught his arm before he could flee, "You promise that we will go back Pegasus?"

Sheppard looked Ronon in the eyes, "Yes; I promise."

As he lay staring at a now unfamiliar starfield, Sheppard wondered if that promise to Ronon was a moot one, even with the assurances of General O'Neill. The IOA was defying the SGC at every turn. During the first meeting with the IOA, General O'Neill had stormed out when Coolidge suggested that the IOA take possession of Atlantis from the SGC. Sheppard had not slept after that meeting. At least, not until after a meeting held two days later, when O'Neill threw a hand-written message from the US President onto the table in front of Coolidge. In polite language, the president informed the IOA that they could keep their mitts off Atlantis; possession of the city would not change. They might have financial oversight, but the IOA did not control Atlantis. It was Coolidge's turn to stalk out of the meeting.

Later in the day, General O'Neill caught up with him in the armory. Sheppard was target shooting on the gun range, bleeding off his frustrations. The general walked over to him when he was reloading, and peered at the target Sheppard had just shot. There were eight holes centered in the head and one shot directly to the heart of the target. O'Neill chuckled softly.

"Anyone I know, Sheppard?"

Sheppard turned to glance at the general, who was grinning slyly, "I believe so, sir."

"Not happy with this are you, colonel?"

"No, sir; I'm not. Atlantis needs to be back where she is needed, in the Pegasus galaxy."

"She's needed here, colonel, or don’t you agree?"

Sheppard stared at the general; he was certain O'Neill was baiting him, "With all due respect, sir; we left the people of the Pegasus galaxy without protection from the Wraith. I realize that protection of Earth is our main mission. Yet the Wraith, who threaten Earth, are located there. We need to be there to stop them." Sheppard's gaze never left O'Neill's eyes.

"Relax, Sheppard; I happen to agree with you, and I'm pretty certain that the President does as well. However, that's not going to happen for a while. In order to appease the IOA and the other agencies chomping at the bit to get their hands on Atlantis, we are going to allow a team of scientists from Area 51 to board her and conduct research. We think that this is the best way to keep everyone happy."

Sheppard cocked his head, incredulous at O'Neill's words, "Have you run this past McKay? I seriously doubt he's going to go along with this."

O'Neill sighed, "Yeah….I know; that's gonna be a problem."

"Ya think, general?"

"Yeah, well, that's where you come in, Sheppard. You are going to have to keep McKay in line while the Area 51 geeks are here." He patted Sheppard on the shoulder and turned to leave; Sheppard stopped him with a question.

"General, are we going home?" Sheppard noticed O'Neill's reaction when he used the word 'home; the general's eyebrow raised and a somewhat bemused look crossed his face.

"I promise Sheppard, you and Atlantis are going home."

Four days later, he and Woolsey had the details of the Area 51 visit in hand. They met with McKay and Zelenka to inform them of the research team that would be coming onboard. As Sheppard continued to stare at the Milky Way stars, visions of McKay's tempestuous reaction flashed through his head.

"I will not have those third-rate, wanna-be scientists touching Atlantis. Our work is too important to allow them anywhere near the city. How could you even think they would know what to do with this equipment and our databases? You have to be kidding me; no, this is not going to happen."

Woolsey had attempted to be patient, "Doctor; we have no choice; we have to allow this. General O'Neill has assured me that nothing will be damaged. Your work and that of your science department will not be compromised in any manner. You have my word, and General O'Neill's, doctor. Dr. Lee will be overseeing the research teams, and will…."

"Lee…Lee…you have to be kidding me; he's a lightweight. He wouldn't know what he was looking at if it came with an instruction manual."

Zelenka attempted to calm McKay down. "Dr. Lee is very qualified, Rodney; he is familiar with Ancient technology, as are the scientists at Area 51. We'll be fine; let them come."

"No, I don't want them here."

Sheppard caught Woolsey and Zelenka's eye; with a slight tilt of his head, he motioned for them to leave him alone with McKay. Both seemed more than willing to leave.

McKay stared at him, "What, are you now going to tell me that I'm being stupid? That I should shut up and just allow them put their sticky fingers on our city."

"No, I am going to tell you to play along. This is simply part of the process that will lead to our return to Pegasus. I'm not happy about this either, these geeks are going to touch my jumpers. Rodney, if you want to go back to Pegasus, we have to do this."

"Really, I…"

Sheppard held up his hand, "Rodney, we don't have a choice."

Rodney's expression was wistful, "Are you certain that they are going to allow us to return to Pegasus?"

"Yes, Rodney," he had replied; he was putting his trust in Jack O'Neill.

Sheppard sat up, leaning against the staircase wall. The breeze was picking up, and streaks of jagged lighting were flashing across the horizon. He wasn't certain that Rodney believed him about returning to Pegasus. The acerbic scientist was still complaining bitterly about the forthcoming invasion of the pseudo-geeks, as Lorne had dubbed them in deference to McKay.

A wave of exhaustion washed over him, and Sheppard closed his eyes. The last few weeks had been difficult and sleep had been elusive; even when he was extremely tired, he had only been sleeping in short segments. A few days before, Beckett had walked up to him without saying a word and handed him a couple of packets of Ambien, but he had yet to take them. He took a deep breath in an attempt to relax, then felt a slight flutter in his thoughts.

"I wondered if you were going to say hello, you've been with me for a while."

"Colonel, you seemed preoccupied with your own thoughts. I felt it better to leave you to them."

"You should teach that attitude to McKay; maybe he'd stop whining and leave me alone for more than five minutes."

"You are troubled, colonel."

He scoffed, "Yeah, you could say that."

"Perhaps I can help."

"Atlantis, you are a lot of things, but I don't think you are a psychiatrist or a bartender."

"I understand the meaning of psychiatrist and how it applies; however, I do not understand the reference to bartender."

Sheppard laughed out loud, "I'll explain that another time."

"I am receiving new data from a remote source, requesting information in my databanks. Dr. McKay has given me permission to interface with this new programming. Is this a permanent change?"

"No, not permanent; there will be some other scientists visiting soon, who will be asking you questions. No need to be concerned."

"Dr. McKay is worried."

"Yeah, well, when isn't McKay worried; he is concerned about the scientists who will be here to learn more about you." He paused, a bit perplexed, then asked, "You can communicate with McKay?"

"I can sense him, partially due to the weak gene he possesses, but also because his brain generates very strong electrical impulses. I have learned to recognize his patterns."

"He has patterns? I always thought that brain of his just flitted from one thought to another randomly," he remarked absently.

"Colonel, you have not yet answered me; you are troubled. What is the source of your anxiety?"

Sheppard glanced toward the starry sky, darkening as the moon dipped toward the horizon and took a drink of water, trying to avoid answering. He chastised himself for being reluctant to talk to Atlantis. As soon as she entered his consciousness, Atlantis could read his emotions, although she was unable to read his thoughts, unless he was speaking to her directly.

"Just a lot going on since we came to the Milky Way; I'm just tired, not sleeping well. Everyone's just a bit off kilter."

"I am aware of your sleep deprivation; your brain patterns are affected. You should sleep, or according to the medical data, you will suffer serious health issues."

Sheppard felt surprisingly annoyed and snarked, "You channeling Beckett and Keller now? Don't start with me, I get enough from them."

"Colonel, you are extremely tired, you need to rest."

Sheppard could have sworn that Atlantis had taken a 'schoolmarm-ish' tone with him. He recognized that tone from years of private schools. Perhaps he simply imagined the tone because he always expected to be chastised about something. Luckily, Atlantis couldn't smack him with a ruler like his fifth-grade teacher had, on more than one occasion. At least, he didn't think she could.

"I'll rest once we have a full crew back on board. There're a lot of new personnel milling around, covering for the crew that is on leave currently."

"Leave, that is a period of rest, is it not?"

"Yep, time to get away from the routine, visit family, go to the beach, whatever you want to do."

"You should take leave, colonel."

"Too much going on, I can't take a vacat…." He sat up; Atlantis was right, maybe that was the answer. He stood up. "Atlantis, you're a genius."

"Colonel, I am an artificial intelligence unit, not a genius."

"Well, in my book that qualifies you. I'm going to try to get some rest now; thanks."

"You are welcome; however, I do not understand what I have done. I will leave you now, so that you may rest."

Sheppard felt Atlantis slip from his consciousness; leaving an emptiness that he always felt when she left him.

He headed toward his quarters, reflecting on his conversation with Atlantis. There were still a lot of issues they had to deal with, but they were together. His breath caught a bit as he remembered that Teyla and Torren were not with them, but he had faith they would be someday.

Atlantis' suggestion that he should take leave was exactly what he needed to hear. He definitely needed a break; they all needed a break. The timing was perfect; O'Neill and Woolsey wanted him to distract McKay from the Area 51 invasion, and Ronon was depressed, although the big Satedan would never admit it. He'd speak to Beckett tomorrow about his plan and joining them on the trip. If Beckett agreed, he'd speak to Woolsey and Landry, apply for thirty day's leave for the four of them, and then off on a road trip. A nice leisurely trip across the United States, just the four of them, wandering aimlessly was exactly what they needed.

Once in his quarters, he slipped off his shoes and fell across his narrow bunk. For the first time in weeks, he felt alive, hopeful. A quote he had read somewhere a long time ago popped into his head, "Being alive is a gift so rare…," a quote that had remained with him through his days in Afghanistan, Iraq, and now during these past years in Pegasus. Words he whispered to himself every time someone was lost.

Being alive was a rare gift, but he was fortunate, he had more than that; he had Atlantis and his friends, rare gifts, indeed.

As the muffled timbre of ocean waves drifted through his windows lulling him to sleep, visions of a road trip flashed through his mind and his restlessness vanished. John Sheppard slept.

The end…

Note: "Being alive is a gift so rare…," quote by David Blume

I'd been wanting to write a prequel to a story I've been writing about the guys on a road trip across the US. This prompt allowed me to work that prequel in. In case you are interested in reading Road Trip, you can find it on fanfiction.net and on AO3.

Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
goddess47
Jul. 19th, 2011 11:23 pm (UTC)
Oh, nice!

Yes, Atlantis would talk to John and know Rodney.... and taking Rodney away when the Area 51 folk are around means they will owe Zelenka big time... but better Radek than Rodney dealing with the 'intruders'

Good job!
stella_pegasi
Jul. 20th, 2011 12:03 am (UTC)
Thank you...so glad you enjoyed. I do believe they are going to have to bring Zelenka some nice gifts from their road trip!

Thanks, really appreciate your comment!
sherry57
Jul. 23rd, 2011 08:49 am (UTC)
This is a perfect prequel to Road Trip which really explains why the boys went on holiday together and without Teyla!! For John, Atlantis and his people are his family. I was holding my breath fro him when he asked Ronon if he was going home too...if Ronon had decided to leave, I'm sure John would have died of sadness.
I feel happy that Road Trip is there to follow this story as I know John is surrounded by his friends in it...and whumped!!! Everyone that reads this should go to read Road Trip after......in fact, that should be a condition of reading this!!
stella_pegasi
Jul. 23rd, 2011 02:05 pm (UTC)
Thanks...I'd been wanting to write a story given the background to Road Trip and for some reason this popped in my head when I read the prompt.

Glad you enjoyed, and really appreciate your comments, very kind.

Thanks again.
titan5
Jul. 23rd, 2011 12:30 pm (UTC)
This was really cool and kind of sad. LOVED John rescuing the marines from Ronon and then his talk with Ronon. And McKay ranting about the third rate scientists coming aboard was very McKay. I very much loved John talking to Atlantis (big fan of that connection).

Thinking of the way they left the show with Atlantis trapped on Earth just makes me sad, then it makes me want to punch people like Brad W. and Joe M. I'm sure they thought it poetic justice for a show and fans they had grown tired of. If I ever win the lottery, I'm hiring them all back to make a good movie to fix all that and I'm hiring a bunch of you guys to write it so it will be done right.
stella_pegasi
Jul. 23rd, 2011 02:11 pm (UTC)
Thanks! Yeah, I do love the John-Atlantis connection as well and love writing it. Poor Marines...Ronon must love when the new ones arrive.

I so agree with you about the ending of the show, so trite and unnecessary. TPTB are still messing with us. If JM is telling the truth about the script they had written for the movie...it's disgusting. I think they are behaving like spoiled kids whose favorite toy was taken away and he's pissed and taking it out on everyone. Hey, I'm right there with you about winning the lottery...I'd use it to bring back SGA as well!!!

Thanks for your very nice comments, I really appreciate it!
scarlettandblue
Jul. 24th, 2011 06:59 pm (UTC)
Lovely, thank you so much. I'm going to book mark your road trip story now too. and yeah me three with the way the show ended and with the lottery idea too, a while ago I was in that weird shrodinger limbo of having an ticket for the eruomillions lottery and knowing someone had won but not having checked the ticket to see if it was me (and no it wasn't :-(....) I was thinking one of my good causes would be to finance an SGA film to put things right!!!
stella_pegasi
Jul. 25th, 2011 03:44 pm (UTC)
Thank you, so glad you liked it. I have had a ton of fun writing Road Trip, I hope you will like it if you have a chance to read it.

Yep, if we combine lottery money...we could have so much fun with SGA. Here's hoping!
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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