Disclaimer: I make no profit of any kind from this fic, etc etc.
Spoilers: AU, future fic. Companion to fic 'The Middle Son' (please read it first before this one) which can be found through my profile page.
Comments: Trying to find some inspiration for writing I was digging through my computer files and came across this fic that I wrote last year. It was written as a companion piece to my fic 'The Middle Son' – set in an AU world 20 years in the future. I had loads of requests and questions about middle son, and I wrote this as a response to answer some of those questions but not all of them. I thought to help spark some more writing I would now post it up finally. Also I made a very generous estimate of John's age here as it has not been officially set in the series.
The images and words spread across the cards were brightly coloured, full of joy praise and congratulations. There were many of them, arranged by some unknown and thoughtful hand, across the two tables of his office. The smiling images told him to be happy - after all it was his birthday. Fifty five years old today.
John's eyes dropped to the remains of the birthday cake on his desk. He contemplated for a moment eating some more, which would only further his feeling of sickness, but he decided against it. He had already eaten enough in front of all the smiling delighted faces. Cramming the brightly coloured piping and layers of sponge into his mouth as he tried to appreciate all his life had brought him. They had made such an effort for him.
He had known there was going to be a party for him. The crew of the Flight Base had told him plainly two months ago that today he would have a birthday party, that everyone he knew was invited and that he wasn't going to be able to get out of it. And it had been a good party. The entire Base crew had been there, most of the Stargate Central Command not on duty, half of the Research Division from Area 51 and even some top people from the Airforce and Home World Defence. He had felt deeply honoured to see them all there and even more so by the truly unexpected promotion.
General Wilkins had presented him with his new stars and his new rank and John had almost turned it down in his surprise. He had never wanted such an honour, having been happy with his full Colonel status and command of the US Flight Base of Earth Defence.
Everyone had clapped and cheered as the stars had been pinned to his shoulders. He had shaken hands and smiled, made a short speech – thick on jokes and thin on emotion. He had played the role of the happy new General John Sheppard. And the hours had passed and people had left and he had been left with the last block of the massive birthday/congratulations cake.
Sitting alone now in his office he regarded the cake once again, wondering whether eating more of it might yet cheer him up. But, perhaps that would only be another distraction technique, one among many it seemed these days, to avoid returning home. The paperwork was all done, the night crew were all on duty with little trouble expected and there was nothing more for John to do but go home.
Home was a nearby small empty house. He had realised some time ago that if one fateful day the house burnt down whilst he was out, that he would lose nothing of value to him. The few things he treasured he carried with him; his wings, his friendships and hidden away inside his wallet the tiny dog-eared photo of Teyla and baby Torren.
The new stars on his jacket's shoulders glittered as he pulled off his uniform jacket, and he rubbed aged fingers over the sparkling new shine of the metal. It was official; he was a military career man. He had dedicated his life to the Airforce and these past twenty years following the evacuation from Atlantis he had thrown himself into his work.
His eyes moved to the windowsill across the office on which sat his collection of framed photos. He was only in two of them; at his brother's wedding and at Rodney's wedding. The rest of the large collection of photo frames held images from his friends' lives. There was nothing in his own life but his career.
General Wilkins' speech at the party had listed John's accomplishments over the years, but all John had heard was what had been missing. And the shock of his promotion, after all he had almost been fired twice before: the first time after Afghanistan and the second after they had left Atlantis. He had fought tooth and nail to go back to Pegasus, then he had begged and pleaded, but the IOA had seen no benefit to the expense as there was nothing left back there for them. John had tried every argument he could think of, except of course the real truth that the woman he loved was back there. Instead he had tried everything else, even falling back on the fact that Ronon needed to be returned to his home galaxy, as he hadn't thought 'the woman I love is back there' would have worked. The IOA hadn't been convinced. It had been inevitable of course, even Ronon had seen that eventually having headed off world to explore the Milky Way and John had lost his last excuse. That realisation had almost broken John and he had reacted badly. He had been put on forced leave for a month to 'think things over'. During that time he had cooled off somewhat and had arrived at the painful conclusion that he was going to have to play the waiting game. He had to hope that one day the opportunity would arrive which would allow him to return to Pegasus.
He had returned to work in the SGC with renewed conviction and had worked every hour he could there. Over the next two years he had received commendations for his part in the SGC, but gradually his heart had gone out of going off world. He missed flying and it had always been a solace for him in the past. So he had requested a transfer to the newly established US Flight Base of Earth Defence. Along with Rodney he had been promoting the creation of a new ship; one which melded Ancient Jumper technology with Asgaard and Earth F302s. He had presented his idea to the Base Commander and had been given permission to work with Rodney on the new ship's design and testing.
It had taken five years, but the new gate jumping GSHD ships had been put into service. The 'Gate Ship with Hyperdrive' capacity could be launched from anywhere and used small power sources that did not require regular fuel. They were also a joy to fly in John's opinion. He had been the first pilot to fly every test ship and had even recently been gifted his own personal GSHD version six, fitted with the new neural interface technology prototype, installed by Rodney as a personal gift. Of course that was mostly so that John would test the technology as much as possible as the neural interface was still the latest technology and it didn't always work, but it was still John's favourite toy.
He, Rodney and his team had received a Presidential commendation for the original GSHDs. John had pushed for the name to be changed, but the flight crews had begun to call them Gate Ships, much to John's annoyance and Rodney's glee. Not that they were sent through the Gates that often nowadays, be it through the SGC gate or the second gate in orbit around Mars. The hyperdrives were pretty small and couldn't jump all that far, certainly not across the deep wide space between the Milky Way and Pegasus, but John had still thought about it. More times than he could remember during runs up to the Mars gate he would always feel that urging temptation to at least try and see how many jumps he could make across that void towards Pegasus. Of course the power source and his air supply would have long run out, but he had still calculated how long and how many jumps it would take. That the temptation had been there had been somehow comforting in those silent times sat alone in the Gate Ship flying away from his home planet and off into yet another battle.
He set aside his jacket and pulled out his wallet, sliding out the small photo of Teyla and Torren. He tried not to look at it too often as the pain, even after so many years, was still very strong. He knew it was unhealthy to dwell on them so much. He loved his career and his friendships. He had even managed a long term relationship with a woman from Home World Defence. She had been a wonderful woman, but as busy as he had been. The relationship had lasted six years mostly due to the face that they had only seen each other once or twice a week at the most. Eventually they had faced the fact that all they got from the relationship had been physical gratification and someone to talk to about their work; and that was it. They had mutually called an end to it all. John hadn't been with anyone else since and had found his mind once again shifting back to Teyla, not that she had ever faded from his thoughts. And he didn't even know if she was still alive.
There had been no time to tell her of the evacuation of Atlantis. Atlantis had been attacked by the last surviving Wraith following the massive attack Atlantis had sent against the remaining Hives along with the assistance of several other powerful space faring races. The Wraith sabotage to Atlantis had been skilful and complete, and the bomb had been impossible to deactivate. Rodney had tried of course, up until the every last second, but the Wraith code had been too complex and the countdown too short. At least everyone had been evacuated in time, only just though. Of course Rodney had blamed himself for a long time afterwards and John had tried hard not to let his own depression fuel his friend's self blame.
John turned to the photo of Rodney on his wedding day and then to the smaller picture beside it of Rodney with his then newly born son. It was still odd to think of Rodney as a father. Angus was now a freckled fifteen year old boy, whose mind worked as fast as his father's. John liked the kid, but he often reminded John of Torren and therefore of Teyla. God, his life left like a broken record! Well, something was broken that was for sure.
A sharp knock at his office door brought his attention back to the here and now. He swung his chair round to face the door as he pulled his jacket back on and along with it his work face.
"Come," he called out as he pushed the last of the birthday cake aside.
The door opened to the smiling face of General Wilkins.
John moved to stand up, but the General waved him down.
"Down, John," he said as he closed the door behind him.
"Sorry, Bill. It's been a strange day," John replied as he waved the man towards the chair opposite.
Bill Wilkins sat and unbuttoned his jacket, indicating the lack of formality of the visit which allowed John to relax somewhat.
"Congratulations once again, John."
"Thanks. I didn't see it coming, I can tell you."
Bill smiled widely again. "No, didn't think you would. You should know the President almost came to the party."
"What? Why?" John asked, his eyes sliding to the official congratulatory card from the President's desk that had accompanied the new stars.
"She's always been a fan of yours, you know that, John."
"I bet she had some votes against my promotion though," John added feeling a little embarrassed at the continuation of the day's admiration.
"I think there was one vote again you and that was from Research and Development, who would prefer you work with them some more. I think they wanted to discourage you from staying here."
John shook his head. When had he become Mr Popularity? He remembered the days when he had been shunned and kicked out to Antarctica. The changes over the past twenty years to world government and the military had placed him in a position of power and respect, rather than as someone to yell at. It was still a little strange for John, but then he had made himself a military career man.
"Did you like your cake?" Bill asked.
John frowned down at the remains on his desk. "Sure, I like the piping in the shape of a Gate Ship."
"It didn't have any candles though," Bill added.
"Well, we wouldn't want to set off the smoke detectors would we," John joked, a little surprised at the conversation.
"True," Bill smiled his infectious smile again. "But, that means you didn't get a birthday wish."
John raised his eyebrows at the man. "I guess not. I never really believed in birthday wishes."
"Maybe it's time to start," Bill replied. "The President and the Head of Home World Defence want to show their appreciation for all your hard work over the years."
"Isn't that what the promotion was for?"
"That as well."
John smiled and interlinked his fingers over his still toned stomach. His daily workout had become another distraction technique. "Which means they want something from me."
"I couldn't really say, John," Bill replied innocently.
"Would you have any ideas?"
"I wouldn't, but I might have heard certain…rumours about a new Research and Development project that may require certain individuals such as yourself."
"They want the neural interface don't they?" John surmised. His and Rodney's little pet project of getting an Earth neural interface working had resulted in only two versions; the one in Rodney's lab and the one fitted in John's personal Gate Ship. And since Rodney no longer worked for the military, only consulted for them, his prototypes were not US property.
"I may have heard something along those lines, but I really couldn't say."
"Well, that's Rodney's baby, not mine. I just got a prototype as a friendly gift."
Bill chuckled. "Surely you can see that a man in your position has connections the R&D people would like to employ. Just look at your friends; Doctor Zelenka is the head of Area 51, Colonel Lorne is team leader in the SGC and Doctor McKay consults regularly for R&D and owns the most successful Tech Research company. You're the commander of this continent's primary Flight Base and you have the most powerful Ancient gene that Doctor McKay's prototypes work with. So, yes, they want to butter you up some, so to speak."
John hadn't really thought about it that way. His friends were just that; his friends. Sure, they were all now big wigs, but he still thought of them as people he had gotten drunk with at the Christmas party.
"So, the powers that be want to offer me a birthday wish to persuade me to cooperate? What kind of wish are we talking about?"
Bill settled further back in his chair, his hands linked over his wide middle. "What do you want?"
"What can I have?" John pushed, but the wish was already on his tongue.
Bill studied him thoughtfully for a long moment before he grinned. "How about a one time science expedition to the Pegasus Galaxy to gather Ancient tech we could use for this new research project?"
John almost stopped breathing. It had taken twenty years and he had almost given up hope, but it was finally here. His opportunity was knocking.
"Of course you would want to command such a momentous trip yourself, given your history and experience in that galaxy," Bill continued.
"That sounds like the kind of wish I would want to make," John replied, his voice slightly husky. "You want me to blow out a few candles to make it official?"
Bill continued grinning as he began to climb to his feet. "I'll leave that up to you. I will convey your request to the President along with your interest in the new R&D project."
John stood, moving around his desk to walk to the office door with Bill. He pulled open the plain wooden door for his friend. "Thank you, Bill," John said earnestly. Bill nodded, one hand dropping briefly on John's arm before he disappeared down the corridor.
John closed the door slowly, the reality slowly closing in. He was going back to Pegasus. Plans began to circle his mind. He would call Rodney now; he would definitely want to come along. And John would need to get hold of Ronon, wherever he was at the moment. Wow, it was really going to happen.
He headed back to his desk chair and reached towards his phone, eager to call Rodney, only to notice that he had left the small photo of Teyla and Torren on his desk. He picked it up and stared down at the worn image. Would she still be alive? Torren would be twenty two by now; a grown man. John tried vainly to imagine how the boy would look now from the picture in his hand. Would Torren still be with Teyla or maybe he had left the Athosians? Had she? Maybe she had married and moved away from them? If the Athosians still existed.
Too many questions, but now, finally, he would get some answers.