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Five Steps that Changed John Sheppard's Life

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John finished shutting down the helicopter's controls, then walked into the Antarctic base with the General.  The people he'd met so far were interesting if he had to settle on a word.  But no more interesting than himself.  Nearly everyone down here at the end of the world had left someone back home.  He figured most of these people did it to explore.  Some, especially the Military contingent, did it out of duty.  Maybe some like the fresh-faced Lieutenants had done it as a way to send money back home.  And probably there was someone out there, like John, who did it as a way to escape his past.  Everyone had a reason for being down here, including John.

As he paced around waiting for General O'Neill, he listened to the explanations of the Scottish doctor about this race of ancients.  He'd flown with buddies from Area 51 that let secrets flow as long as the booze did, so John knew that the Military had already taken to space.  But another galaxy?  That was a new on one him.

Even inside the base, it was cold enough to see his breath.  And John used to the heat and sands of Afghanistan, wasn't quite climatized to Antarctic weather quite yet.  So as he bundled his hands in his pockets, he decided to quit pacing and take a seat. There was a big, decorated chair on a swivel, with a footrest at the bottom.  Though there was no comparison, it still made John smirk, considering the thing looked more like something you'd find in an old fashioned barber shop instead of Antarctica.  But still, any seat would do, even if the good doctor warned him about this race of people that used chairs like this to control ships – ships that could cross galaxies.

John reached for the chair, only for the doctor to warn, "Major, please don't.�

He smirked, then took a step.  "Come on, Doc.  What're the odds of me having the same genes as these guys.â€�

In an instant, the chair reclined on its own, and a pleasant hum filled his chest.  John didn't dare move, as the doctor ran toward the makeshift office, and called for Doctor Weir.

~*~*~

John was asked by the project team leadership to come to Atlantis.  O'Neill had offered his own opinion but still managed to tell John to get his shit together and make a decision.  He gave John a couple of weeks leave to deal with things if he genuinely wanted to go. "Go home.  Deal with your shit, and then call me."

Home.  Like that was a place for John anymore.  John had long been estranged from his family; had been ever since his mother had died. His family had never been close after that.  If John showed up at his father's house without at least a few days notice, his father would let him know just how much it inconvenienced him.  Dave was no better.  Sure, he liked his kid brother.  But Dave had taken after Patrick Sheppard, much like John had taken after his mother. 

And Nancy.  Well, that ship had not only left port, but slipped beneath the waves and took what little joy out of his life, pushed it overboard, and hid it under a thousand feet of water.  They'd been sweet on each other for years, but if John were honest, his marriage had been more of an olive branch for his father than a commitment to someone. Still, he didn't blame Nancy, because he'd gone along with it, too.

So that's why when O'Neill sent him home, John bought a ticket to the first place that came to mind; Portland, Oregon.  It was a large enough city to where he could be alone, even amongst a million people.  But it was where he and his mother had taken him when he was young, where they spent their mornings amongst the stacks of his mother's favorite bookstore, and their evenings in countless green parks, watching the sunset.

The bar John had chosen was right off one of the parks his mother loved, a green oasis in the midst of a bustling city. John finished his whiskey and pulled out a couple of bills to pay his tab.  "What do I owe you, Kristy?â€� he asked the heavily tattooed woman behind the bar, even though he'd had the same thing three days running.  He liked the bartender.  She was her own person, and John had to smile whenever she pinned anyone who tried to pinch her ass or called her, "Little girl.â€�  Anything worse would get you physically ejected because Kristy didn't put up with shit. 

"Make ya a deal, John,â€� Kristy said as she poured a PBR for a hipster couple that came in.  "It's $18, or you can just tell me what you're in here escaping.â€�

"Escaping?� John lied.

"Yeah,â€� she said after she put the beers in front of the couple, then came to stand in front of him.  "Three days in a row, two hours each, glaring at the clock like it owes you money.â€�

As a sigh escaped his lips, John wondered if he was indeed that transparent.  "Gotta decide something."

"Well, it's gotta be big if you're sitting in a bar on a beautiful fucking Portland day when you clearly should be out in that sunshine."  She put a shot glass in front of John, then one in front of her, and then filled them with a dark liquor that shone in the dimmed lights of the bar.  Rye, probably.  She raised her glass, and then John did the same.  Whatever it was had to be cheaper than what John had been drinking based on the acidic burn he felt clear down to his stomach.

Kristy cocked her head, then went to the till. She pulled something out, then walked up to John.  "Hold out your hand,â€� she said, so John did.  She deposited a coin in his hand, then curled his fingers up around it. "That's my lucky Kennedy,â€� she said of the fifty cent piece as John inspected it.  "Go take a walk around the park, clear your head.  And if you can't decide, let the coin.â€�

"Okay,� John said, slightly dumbfounded.

After a few seconds, Kristy added, "Go on. Git!â€�

John took a few steps toward the door, then turned back and watched Kristy for a minute.

"And don't lose my lucky Kennedy,� she said as she poured another beer.

"Be right back,� John said, and then took a step out of the bar and into the oranges and reds of a beautiful Portland sunset.

~*~*~

Even though he knew what his answer was going to be, it was somehow an easier decision to make with Kristy's coin. Which was why John had left the bar, rented a car, and drove to Colorado Springs, where he reported for duty.  It didn't take long to meet and get to know more of the expedition, including a fresh-faced Lieutenant named Ford who acted like he didn't have a care in the world, to the scientist in the tight tan pants and a Canadian flag on his shoulder who had told him, "Okay, Major. Now think about where we are in the solar system" when they were both back in Antarctica.

John knew he was leaving Earth behind, probably forever.  He had been warned that it was a one-way trip, with no way to come back, but he was okay with it.  It wasn't like his father's disappointment in him could be any worse.  Or really there was anything that was tethering him to Earth except the pain of memories.

When he asked Lieutenant Ford what gate travel felt like, he wasn't sure what to expect.  When Ford responded, "It hurts like hell, sir," the weight of the admission felt heavy in his chest.  He was pretty sure that the lieutenant had been lying, based on the last second grin and the way Ford went through the Stargate.  But at the same time, he knew he needed to steel himself to break the last few tethers he had to his home planet. 

Home.  Even just the thought felt funny to him because he hadn't had a home in a while. Only the pain of loss – of his mother.  Of drifting away from his family.  Of his life with Nancy. 

Maybe there would be pain as he drifted between the stars.  But any short term pain that he felt would hopefully put at least a small damper on the pain that he carried with him every day.

So John squeezed his eyes shut, even as the event horizon danced in shadows in front of him.  And he took a step.

~*~*~

John and Rodney had danced around each other for years.  From the moment they were both on Atlantis, they had mostly been inseparable.  That was as much because of how they felt when they were together, as well as how John felt when he was around Rodney. 

Home.  He felt like home.

It wasn't a feeling that John'd had in quite a while, but he welcomed it with open arms and Rodney at his side.

After a particularly harrowing mission gone pear-shaped, Rodney had gotten injured.  He'd had to pull a gun for the first time in a long while, and John watched in horror as the clip fell out of Rodney's gun.  They were just lucky that at that moment, Ronon had returned and took out the two guys threatening Rodney, which allowed John and Teyla to break away from the large men that had taken them hostage.

The first thing that John did after the mission was completed, blood was drawn and injuries dealt with in the infirmary, and Weir was briefed, John dragged Rodney down to the gun range.  Though Rodney balked, John hovered over him until Rodney disassembled, cleaned his gun, put it back together, and then filled the clip. 

"Seriously, Sheppard.  What's the point?â€� Rodney said as he started the entire process a second time as John stood, still as a statue, his arms crossed and eyes focused on the weapon.

"You could have died, Rodney,� John finally said when Rodney finished.

Rodney looked at him as he rolled his eyes. "But I didn't-"

John leaned closer, his voice barely above a whisper.  "You could have died.â€�

After studying him for a second, Rodney slowly nodded.  "Okay. Okay, I-â€�

"I can't always protect you, Rodney.  And you mean too much for me to lose you.â€� John reached out and held Rodney's arm at the wrist, not trusting himself to reach for Rodney's hand.

They stood in silence for a moment, John hoping his eyes could say what his mouth couldn't.  And when Rodney's mouth tilted in a crooked smile, he knew that he and Rodney were indeed on the same page.  He felt like they had always been.  But until that moment, didn't trust himself with that knowledge.

He let his fingers drift from Rodney's wrist slowly until their fingers touched.  He squeezed gently, then smiled.  And when Rodney smiled back at him, he had his answer.

John took a step closer.  He closed his eyes and met Rodney halfway.  As first kisses went, it was perfect.

~*~*~

"Relax,â€� Ronon said as he helped straighten John's tie. "It's gonna be fine.â€�

"Yeah, but-� John replied.

"But nothin',â€� Ronon said, then whacked John's hand away from where it was trying to muss his tie yet again.  "It's gonna be fine.â€�

John looked at him, knowing that this time was different.  But last time he was in this position was with Nancy.  And that was a hole that he felt carved into his chest every single day until he'd met Rodney.  He wanted to ask how this time might be different, but Ronon wasn't having it.

Music started somewhere nearby, and John stiffened a bit until Ronon whacked him in the shoulder.  It was a hard enough whack to make John lose balance for half a beat. "Relax, Sheppard,â€� he said, then bobbed his head to the door.  "Sounds like we're on.â€�  Ronon walked to the door, turned, then said, "See you out there,â€� before he left. 

With a nod, Ronon slipped from the room.

They'd rehearsed this before, and everything had gone perfectly.  But now that the day was here, John was a nervous wreck.  Ronon had tried to help with a shot of some tequila-like liquor that they'd gotten on a recent off-world trip, but all that did was give John heartburn and make his stomach queasy.

John took a deep breath as he heard the music soften and the crowd outside rising.  That was the cue.  He peeked out and saw Elizabeth standing at the altar, Carson on one side, and Ronon on the other.  The door across from him clicked, and John looked up in time to catch Rodney's eyes as they latched onto his own.  They shared a smile, and then both peeked down the aisle where their future waited for them.

When he finally looked back at Rodney, John reached out a hand.  Rodney met him halfway, and together, they took a step into the middle of the hallway. It was the first step of their two lives, forever joined as one.